Home > 21 Stolen Kisses

21 Stolen Kisses
Author: Lauren Blakely

Chapter One
Kennedy


The champagne bubbles tickle my nose.

I don’t taste the drink I’m holding. I don’t even bring my lips to the glass. Not because I’m too young to drink, but because I don’t drink. I’d rather be in control, and so, instead, I raise the crystal flute in a toast.

I am always toasting because everything is grand in the land I live in.

Everything is sparkly.

Everything is fabulous.

Even when it’s not.

But my mom’s TV show was just renewed for another season, and everyone who matters is here at our home off Central Park West, drinking and nibbling and laughing and chatting. Like my mom, for instance, who holds court in the living room, perched grandly on her cranberry-red couch. Her raven-black hair is glossy and gorgeous, and her green eyes glitter with happiness as the head of the network toasts her.

“To Jewel! A gem among showrunners,” he says, looking every bit the shiny, gleaming suit that he is. He’s polished so brightly, and he always knows exactly what to say at these moments. I’m pretty sure he once tried to spend the night with my mom. I’m pretty sure she rebuffed his advances.

Every once in a blue moon, it happens—her rejection of a suitor.

“To LGO! The best network there is!” she says, holding her glass up high. She doesn’t even try to feign embarrassment at being the center of attention. She’s not embarrassed. She adores her role in the spotlight. She might as well have been bred for it, like a prized poodle. She’s smiling as she always is because she has everything she wants. Her new man, Warren, is by her side, fawning over her.

My mom’s petite friend Bailey, a publicist for her show, clinks glasses with me, then downs half her champagne.

I drink none, and instead I run my finger absently along the rim, wanting one thing, wishing I could want nothing. But I can’t.

I want him.

I’m wearing my best jeans, a pair of black heels, and a silvery-gray top. I like to look good. I like to look good for him—that guy on the other side of the room, leaning casually against the wall, not drinking either. Watching the scene unfold. Part of it, but separate.

I wonder what he thinks when he looks at me. If he still feels the same pull. The same damn longing.

His eyes meet mine. His are dark blue, the color of the dawn before day takes over. They give me my answer when he doesn’t look away, and my heart tries to spring free of my chest and bound over to him. Being in the same space—even with him so many feet away—is hard. So hard. But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

“And what about you?”

Bailey’s voice jars me. Reminds me that we’ve been having a conversation while I’ve been drifting back to him. “Hmm?” I ask furrowing my brow. “What about me?”

“Boys? Guys? Are you dating? Anyone special?”

My cheeks burn red. Heat spreads over my face. I’m not seeing anyone. “No,” I say, even though inside I’m saying It’s complicated, it’s complicated, it’s complicated. That’s what I told my cousin Anaka in Los Angeles when she e-mailed me earlier this week asking me if there were any hot guys on the scene.

We chat more, making small talk, the skill I’ve been schooled in the art of since I could utter my first words. Then Bailey snaps her fingers, her face lighting up in recognition. “I almost forgot! I have a script for a friend I want to get in front of Hayes,” she says then makes a beeline for the man who makes things happen. I watch for a moment, cataloguing the expression on his face as she makes her pitch, the shift in those dark-blue eyes to his business look. He nods, and I can just make out him saying, Sure, send it over, and it reminds me once more of everything between us.

I have to excuse myself from this party and my mother and her friends and all these people.

When I reach my room, I text him. Because I can’t resist.

One word. It’s all I can manage. It’s all I can’t manage without.

Hi.

After midnight, they are all gone. Every last one of them. The brownstone is eerie and still, as it should be after hours. I pad quietly to the kitchen, find an apple in a basket on the counter, rinse it off and take a bite, rewinding a few hours to the party, to that moment when we locked eyes. To the charge I swear raced through the air, connecting us. Tethering us, like we’ve been for so long.

I shudder, remembering kisses. Remembering his touch. His soft voice whispering in my ear. The music we listened to together. The stories he told me.

It’s a dreamlike state, being back in time.

Then I hear footsteps and snap open my eyes.

My reverie is broken cruelly when I realize I’m about to learn something I’d rather not know—the answer to whether my mom's latest boyfriend wears boxers or briefs.

Because Warren wears white boxer briefs. He walks through the hallway, across the living room, and past the dining room table before he notices the daughter of the house leaning against the kitchen counter.

“Honestly?” I say as I crunch into the fruit.

Even in the dark I can see his face turn red as he stops short at the kitchen. “I’m so sorry, Kennedy.”

But he’s not moving. Perhaps his bare feet are stuck to the floor of the entryway.

“I had no idea you were going to be in the kitchen,” Warren says, stumbling on his words.

“That much is self-evident. Now, do you need me to pour you a glass of milk, or do you think maybe you can get through the rest of the night without one?”

He’s flustered and fluttery and his belly is saggy and it’s just the sort of stuff that would make a lesser girl scream or cringe or cry. But this is par for the course. I had to get over the silly idea that I might actually walk around my house without running into a mate of my mother’s a long, long time ago. They are always underfoot; ingesting coffee at the table in the morning, draped across the couch in the evening, foraging in the fridge after hours. If I didn’t have my own bathroom, I might never stay at my mom’s place on her half of my fifty-fifty nights.

Not that I have much say in the matter. I have no agency. I have no choices. I’m too young.

Warren somehow finds the strength to retreat to the cave of dark and sordid late-night festivities—my mom’s bedroom; though it’s more like an opium den.

I finish off the apple in the silence, return to my upstairs bedroom, and fiddle around on Instagram, checking out a new collection of found hearts in nature—wild red fireworks forming a heart, a drawn heart on a sandy beach, a heart-shaped stone. I save them and send them to a special folder on my phone as I settle into bed. The pictures help me forget the kitchen run-in. I check my text messages one more time. I’m still waiting to hear back from him.

I’ve heard nothing.

Maybe it’s all in my mind.

Noah


The elevator dings on the sixth floor, and the doors slide open. I’m still clutching my phone, and I could justify with a million reasons the way I stare at the screen. Responding to clients. Writing back to producers. Dealing with my boss. All that is true. But all that is a lie because one little text has me right back where I know I shouldn’t be.

But I gave in long ago.

With my free hand, I unlock my apartment door, then drop the keys on the table. I turn on the light, rub my hand over my eyes, and sigh heavily. I’ve already gone through all the reasons to ignore her. I’ve already tried to fight this for far too long. I’m not winning any awards for resistance. I never did. I threw in the towel many moons ago.

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