My face automatically sank into my hands, a groan slipped from my lips at the same time.
“Were you waiting for anyone?” His voice was warm and friendly.
I peeked between my fingers to find him looking down at me, a smile stretched across his face.
“Of course not,” Mouse said, sending a teasing grin in my direction. “Take a seat.”
The couch sank a little as he sat beside me. I dropped my hands away from my face to rest in my lap. He’d brought his friends, who were now sitting around the low table. Mouse talked to one of them with red hair, ignoring my embarrassment.
“Hi, I’m Matt,” the cute guy introduced himself, turning slightly to face me where I sat. He pushed his hair out of his eyes, just for it to fall back into exactly the same place. He tossed his head, sending the black strands to the side, where they somehow managed to stay put.
“Hello.” I tried not to stutter. Nerves fluttered in my belly. I attempted to draw back the confidence I’d feigned before, but it didn’t work.
“Do you have a name?” he asked, a smile played around his lips, which he seemed to be attempting to keep in a serious line.
“Emilie.” I forced a smile forth.
A strange expression tugged at his eyebrows, but it was only fleeting.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you…Emilie.” He paused over the name, as if he were analyzing its texture on his tongue. “Can I get you anything to drink?”
“No, thank you. There should be something coming now.”
As if my words had summoned him, the waiter appeared, bearing a tray adorned with two tall glasses. They were filled with some sort of pink drink and decorated with a strawberry on the rim. He set the drinks down in front of us before placing a small silver tray next to them with a piece of paper on it.
“Put it on my tab,” Matt ordered the waiter, waving him away. The man swept the bill back into his hand and left.
“Thank you,” I murmured, concentrating on keeping my English accent in place. I glanced up at him, trying to peer discreetly through my lashes, but I found myself looking straight into his eyes. I hastily averted my gaze and toyed with the straws in my drink.
His laughter bubbled around me, warming my blood as heat flooded my cheeks. I had to be thankful for the dim lighting that hid the pinkness that probably stained my face.
“So, how’d you screw up?” he asked, gesturing to the cast on my arm.
I felt a strange urge to giggle.
“I fell off my horse,” I muttered lamely, as if embarrassed at my clumsiness.
He nodded, once again, obviously not totally convinced.
“You’ve got a horse?” He still smiled, but the question felt forced, somehow.
“Three, actually,” I confirmed.
“Do you live here? Or are you visiting?”
“Just visiting. My father’s here on business.”
“Where in England are you from?”
What was this, a pop quiz? Did people always ask so many questions when they met strangers?
“Buckinghamshire, although I spend a lot of time in Oxford for university now,” I replied, glad I’d learned all of this by heart. “What about you? Are you a New York native?”
“Not really. My parents liked to travel a lot. Dad’s dead now, so I look after some of the family business.”
I nodded, taking another sip of my drink.
“Do you want to dance?”
“Oh, I can’t,” I admitted. Thrown off balance by his question, I turned to face him fully for the first time. Seeing him from this angle, I was surprised to see he was a lot bigger than I’d thought, his broad shoulders pulled at the seams of his shirt.
“Come on, everyone knows how to dance,” he urged.
“Not everyone and I’m sure I can’t do that.” I gestured to the women swaying sinuously and the couples writhing together in the middle of the dance floor. I’d never done it—I’d never been that close to a male full-stop. The only dancing we’d done was ballet, and that was only to improve our coordination.
“It’s not difficult and you don’t have to dance like that. I can show you?” he offered.
Again, my cheeks heated as I peered into his eyes, trying to gauge his seriousness. They looked steadily into my own.
“Go on,” Mouse said. “We’re not going anywhere right now. Just keep an eye out in case I need you.”
“Oh, okay then…”
“There’s no need to sound so excited about it,” he teased.
“Sorry,” I squeaked, looking away again. I couldn’t seem to find a balance between my nerves and the confidence I was attempting to project.
“Come on.” He took hold of my drink and placed it back on the table. Taking my good hand, he helped me to my feet and led me back to the glass partition.
I tossed the small black bag to Mouse, who caught it easily. She couldn't seem to restrain the giggles that burst from her lips. The host on the door lurched out of Matt’s way, pushing everyone else to clear the path as well. I hadn’t realized I’d scared him that much.
Matt wove his way between the bodies on the dance floor until he found the right place, by an alcove at the back. He pulled me closer, placing my fingers gently against the soft hair at the nape of his neck. He slid his hands around my waist to the small of my back, holding me close, tucking my arm wrapped in plaster against his own. We were touching, but just barely. It was nothing at all compared to some of the couples.
I twisted slightly in his arms, repositioning us so I could keep an eye on Mouse and the room in which Marissa resided.
He moved to the music, dancing to a relaxed secondary beat as opposed to the hard throbbing rhythm at the crest of the noise. I wasn’t quite sure where to look, too uncomfortable to stare straight into his eyes while also trying to avoid staring down at my feet. I settled on watching people dancing over his shoulder.
“You can look at me,” he teased as the first song blended into the second.
“Sorry,” I mumbled and lifted my eyes to his.
“It’s all right, as long as you want to dance. We can go back to your friend if you want?” For the first time, his cheerful expression slipped and he seemed a little unsure of himself.
I shook my head, gazing into his hazel eyes, awkward that I was the cause of his sudden lack of confidence.
“How old are you?” he asked.
“Nineteen,” I said, not skipping a beat. “Why?”
“You seem quite young.”
“Oh… How old are you?” I responded.
“The same,” he replied. “What date's your birthday?”
For some reason I couldn’t hold back the feeling that he was testing me.
“March sixteenth,” I answered honestly. It’d been strange to find out she had the same birthday as Nicole and I, even if she was two years older.
We danced together for a few more songs. His arms gathered me gradually closer as the music continued. I kept checking over his shoulder, both to check on Mouse and make sure the woman we were here to see hadn’t left.
I glanced back to Matt. My breath caught and I turned my scrutiny to something on his shoulder. The intensity blazing in those depths was too much. For a moment he stilled, before his hand lifted to my chin, caressing the soft skin along my jaw. His feather light fingertips sent sparks dancing wherever they touched.
He nudged my face up until I was forced to look him squarely in the eye. His gaze caught mine, holding it with a potency that stirred something deep within my chest. I couldn’t have torn my eyes away even if I wanted to.
His other arm tightened around my waist, pulling me closer to his body. The air rushed from my lungs. For a moment he didn’t move, the unspoken question lingering in his eyes. Taking my silence for approval, he lowered his face unhurriedly toward mine. My eyelashes drifted down, like they knew exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
His mouth closed gently over mine. His soft lips moved ever so tenderly. A small sigh escaped my lips and his hand tangled in my hair.
He pulled back, putting the barest space between us.
“I know you’re not Emilie,” he whispered against my lips.