“COME ON!” EMMA whispered from my right, her words floating from her mouth in a thin white cloud. She glared at the battered steel panel in front of us, as if her own impatience would make the door open. “She forgot, Kaylee. I should have known she would.” More white puffs drifted from Emma’s perfectly painted mouth as she bounced to stay warm, her curves barely contained in the low-cut shimmery red blouse she’d “borrowed” from one of her sisters.
Yes, I was a little envious; I had few curves and no sister from whom to borrow hot clothes. But I did have the time, and one glance at my cell phone told me it was still four minutes to nine. “She’ll be here.” I smoothed the front of my own shirt and slid my phone into my pocket as Emma knocked for the third time. “We’re early. Just give her a minute.”
My own puff of breath had yet to fade when metal creaked and the door swung slowly toward us, leaking rhythmic flashes of smoky light and a low thumping beat into the cold, dark alley. Traci Marshall—Emma’s youngest older sister—stood with one palm flat against the door, holding it open. She wore a snug, low-cut black tee, readily displaying the family resemblance, as if the long blond hair wasn’t enough.
“’Bout time!” Emma snapped, stepping forward to brush past her sister. But Traci slapped her free hand against the door frame, blocking our entrance.
She returned my smile briefly, then frowned at her sister. “Nice to see you too. Tell me the rules.”
Emma rolled wide-set brown eyes and rubbed her bare, goose-pimpled arms—we’d left our jackets in my car. “No alcohol, no chemicals. No fun of any sort.” She mumbled that last part, and I stifled a smile.
“What else?” Traci demanded, obviously struggling to maintain a rare scowl.
“Come together, stay together, leave together,” I supplied, reciting the same lines we’d repeated each time she snuck us in—only twice before. The rules were lame, but I knew from experience that we wouldn’t get in without them.
Emma stamped her feet for warmth, chunky heels clacking on the concrete. “If we get caught, we don’t know you.”
As if anyone would believe that. The Marshall girls were all cast from the same mold: a tall, voluptuous mold that put my own modest curves to shame.
Traci nodded, apparently satisfied, and let her hand fall from the door frame. Emma stepped forward and her sister frowned, pulling her into the light from the hall fixture overhead. “Is that Cara’s new shirt?”
Emma scowled and tugged her arm free. “She’ll never know it’s gone.”
Traci laughed and motioned with one arm toward the front of the club, from which light and sound flooded the back rooms and offices. Now that we were all inside, she had to shout to be heard over the music. “Enjoy the rest of your life while it lasts, ’cause she’s gonna bury you in that shirt.”
Unperturbed, Emma danced her way down the hall and into the main room, hands in the air, hips swaying with the pulse of the song. I followed her, keyed up by the energy of the Saturday-night crowd from the moment I saw the first cluster of bodies in motion.
We worked our way into the throng and were swallowed by it, assimilated by the beat, the heat and the casual partners pulling us close. We danced through several songs, together, alone and in random pairs, until I was breathing hard and damp with sweat. I signaled Emma that I was going for a drink, and she nodded, already moving again as I worked my way toward the edge of the crowd.
Behind the bar, Traci worked alongside another bartender, a large, dark man in a snug black tee, both oddly lit by a strip of blue neon overhead. I claimed the first abandoned bar stool, and the man in black propped both broad palms on the bar in front of me.
“I got this one,” Traci said, one hand on his arm. He nodded and moved on to the next customer. “What’ll it be?” Traci smoothed back a stray strand of pale, blue-tinted hair.
I grinned, leaning with both elbows on the bar. “Jack and Coke?”
She laughed. “I’ll give you the Coke.” She shot soda into a glass of ice and slid it toward me. I pushed a five across the bar and swiveled on my stool to watch the dance floor, scanning the multitude for Emma. She was sandwiched between two guys in matching UT Dallas fraternity tees and neon, legal-to-drink bracelets, all three grinding in unison.
Emma drew attention like wool draws static.
Still smiling, I drained my soda and set my glass on the bar.
I jumped at the sound of my own name and whirled toward the stool to my left. My gaze settled on the most hypnotic set of hazel eyes I’d ever seen, and for several seconds I could only stare, lost in the most amazing swirls of deep brown and vivid green, which seemed to churn in time with my own heartbeat—though surely they were just reflecting the lights flashing overhead. My focus only returned when I had to blink, and the momentary loss of contact brought me back to myself.