The odd burn in the back of my throat had to do with allergies. Probably mold somewhere in the building, I told myself as I headed behind the bar and forced a wide smile when I saw the girls sitting there.
“You guys need drinks?” I asked cheerily, reaching almost blindly for a bottle.
“We’re good.” Calla’s gaze drifted over my shoulder, and I didn’t need to look to know that Reece had exited the stockroom. I saw him within seconds, crossing the barroom floor. He dropped into the empty seat next to Cam, his profile stoic.
“You okay?” she asked, voice low and sincere.
My smile was going to split my cheeks. “Of course.”
Doubt crossed her face, and as I turned around and pushed my glasses up to my forehead, I told myself to pull it together. This was her night—her and Jax’s. I didn’t need her worrying about me. Scrubbing my hands over my face, I probably wiped off what was left of my makeup. Oh well, didn’t matter at this point. I fixed my glasses and whirled around.
Calla, Tess and Avery stared at me.
I drew in a shallow breath that scratched at my throat and then grabbed the hem of my shirt, pulling it straight. “So, do you guys want to know why Hufflepuffs do it better?”
Avery grinned as she leaned forward. “Do we want to know?”
I nodded eagerly. “Oh, yes—yes you do.”
Tess bounced once, way enthusiastic to hear my reasons for why being sorted into Hufflepuff was a good thing, and I think I fell in love with her in that moment, but Calla wasn’t fooled. She nibbled on her lower lip as she watched me refill Avery’s glass with soda. And I couldn’t stop myself from glancing over to where all the guys sat. Cam and Jax, who appeared to be on the verge of an epic bromance were deep in conversation with Jase, but the moment my gaze drifted across the table, I forgot what I was doing with the ice scoop. Holy hell, I didn’t even remember picking it up. Why was I holding it?
Reece’s eyes met mine, and the air slowly leaked out of my lungs. The intensity in his stare traveled across the distance between us. It struck me then—why had he picked tonight to finally breach the standoff between us. Not that it really mattered, but I was curious.
I didn’t need to have any of Katie’s ability—she was convinced that when she fell off the pole while, um, dancing and hit her head, she developed psychic power—to know what he was thinking and what the concentrated power in his stare meant. I might have dodged him in the stockroom, but he was far from done with me.
Vibrant blue eyes, the shade of the sky seconds before dusk washed away the startling color, peered out from a thick fringe of dark brown lashes surrounded by golden hued skin. Those eyes were set in a face that still held a hint of boyish charm, but the hard line of the jaw, stubborn and dominant, and those expressive, well-shaped lips spoke of masculinity. A beauty that could be as harsh as it was majestic.
My gaze moved over the canvas and then to the paintbrush in my hand, the ends of its bristles stained blue.
Dammit all to hell in a handbasket. And not a cheap handbasket, one of those Longaberger baskets like my mom collected.
I did it again.
Resisting the urge to throw the brush at the painting, I wondered if the handle was sharp enough to give myself a lobotomy, because seriously, that was the only valid response to painting Reece’s face.
As in way more than once.
Not only was it really kind of pathetic, it was also sort of creepy if I thought about it. I mean, I doubted he’d appreciate knowing I was painting or sketching his face. I’d freak out if some dude was secretly painting my face and had several versions hidden away in his closet. Unless it was Theo James or Zac Efron. They could totally paint my face all they wanted and then some. Reece also probably wouldn’t want to know that I woke up this morning with his eyes burned into my thoughts because I’d dreamed of him again.
Also as in way more than once.
Maybe he wouldn’t mind, an evil little voice whispered. After all, last night in the stockroom he’d gotten all up in my personal space. He totally fixed my glasses for me. There was a moment when I thought he might kiss me.
He also told me the night he thought we had sex should’ve never happened.
So, that evil little voice was a misleading bitch who liked to stir up shit.
Pushing my glasses up my nose, I sighed as I dropped the brush next to the little jars of watercolors sitting on top of the old nightstand that looked like the primary color wheel threw up all over it.
I really needed to stop painting his face.
Why couldn’t I be a normal wannabe artist, painting rolling hills and vases of flowers or some other stupid, abstract stuff? Oh no, I had to be the artist people would think had stalking tendencies.
Sliding off my stool, I wiped my hands along my denim shorts and then carefully peeled the sheet of watercolor canvas free. Some people liked to paint on recycled paper, but I’d always preferred the texture and look of canvas, and all you had to do was gesso the canvas so the watercolor would work.
What I needed to do was roll it up, trash it so no one in the world could see it, but like every time I committed any image to canvas, no matter how embarrassing it might be, I couldn’t part with it.
Painting, the same as sketching, well . . . it became a part of me.
“I’m such an idiot,” I muttered as I walked the almost dry painting to the makeshift clothesline I’d strung the length of the bedroom I’d converted into a studio.
I hung the portrait from clothespins and then backed out of the room, closing the door behind me and swearing that if anyone ever stumbled inside the room and saw that painting—or any of the others—I’d curl up in a little ball in the middle of the interstate.
The soft hum of the TV in the living room tickled my ears as I started down the narrow hallway. Ever since I was a kid, I didn’t like silence, and it got worse after what happened with Charlie. A TV or a radio always had to be turned on. At night, I always had one of those standing fans running, not so much for the cool factor, but mostly the noise.
Two steps took me past my bedroom and the one and only bathroom. My apartment was a bit on the small side, but it was nice. Ground level, hardwood floors throughout, an open floor plan combining the kitchen and living room, and a door that led out from the kitchen onto a neat deck and green area, as well as front access.
It really wasn’t an apartment complex either. Just a huge, old Victorian smack-dab in the middle of the Plymouth Meeting, a town a few miles outside of Philly. The Victorian had been remodeled back in the early 2000s and converted into four two-bedroom apartments. Charlie would’ve called it quaint and he would’ve loved it.