THEN LET HER RUIN ME.
He had everything—wealth, adoration, a brilliant future. Until one chance encounter changed everything.
The moment Caleb Lockhart spotted the mysterious woman in her siren red dress, he couldn’t tear his eyes away.
For the first time in his life, he wanted something. Something he knew he could never have.
The unforgettable stranger he dubs RED.
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Wet dreams were a thing of the past for me.
Or so I thought.
Lifting the blanket, I took a peek and let out a frustrated groan as I plopped back down in bed.
What was she doing to me?
Resigned, I closed my eyes. An image flashed in my head of Red in that red lacy underwear as she jumped off the bridge with me.
And then Red without it…
I felt myself twitch.
This was pretty pathetic.
The cold shower didn’t help. I had three hours before my class started, so I pounded an hour on the treadmill and another on weights. By the time I drove to school, I felt a little more relaxed.
Music blasted from my earphones as I headed to class. I was a little early, but that was nothing new. I’d normally hang with the guys—have a few laughs, bullshit about sexual conquests, or rag one another about anything—but I wasn’t in the mood for that today.
Dumping my backpack on the classroom floor, I sprawled in my seat, pulling my hoodie over my face to cover my eyes and discourage anyone who wanted to chat.
Why was she avoiding me like I had leprosy? The last time I saw her was a few days before, after I told her I wouldn’t be able to pull away next time. It was the truth. I liked her.
I wanted her.
She was different. She did something to me. I hadn’t figured out yet what that was.
I’d like to think I knew all types of girls. Red appeared to be cool and collected, but I could feel her fire burning just below the surface. There had been a few moments when I’d pushed the right buttons so that her cool and collected exterior disappeared and that low-burning fire bloomed into a red blaze.
She was a hellcat, her eyes glinting with anticipation every time I threw a challenge at her. But she wouldn’t let herself give in, holding on to her control like a lifeline.
Life had dealt her a bad hand, made her homeless and broke. She’d put up layers to protect herself.
I wanted to be the one to peel those layers one by one and find the real woman beneath.
When I felt smooth hands pull my hoodie back, I opened my eyes.
Lily’s blue eyes blinked at me, her soft pink lips curving into a smile. She was gorgeous, no doubt. A lock of her silky blond hair fell on the side of her face. Any hot-blooded male would want to touch.
So what the hell did it say about me that I didn’t?
What the hell was wrong with me?
She angled her head to the side, looking at me expectantly.
I waited a beat.
Another lock of hair fell and bounced next to the other one.
How the hell did she do that? Did she have magic powers to control all that hair?
Her irritated sigh was nearly inaudible as she finally flicked her hair over her shoulder, tucking it behind her ear. She was disappointed that I hadn’t done it for her, her eyes narrowing briefly at my face. Then she smiled sweetly again.
“Beatrice-Rose told me you attended the charity event with your mother last week. I’m sorry I missed you.”
I shrugged, gave her a smile. “There’s always next time.”
She chewed on her bottom lip, her pink tongue darting out to wet it. “Why don’t I make it up to you? Dinner?”
I was going to politely decline when an image of Red flashed in my mind again.
From the first moment I saw Red dance, I knew that I would have a hard time resisting her. Not that she tried to get my attention. If anything, she stayed away from me.
A sweet, honest compliment; a lingering, adoring look. A smile that hinted of secret pleasures to come; a fleeting, intimate touch to the back of her hand, her shoulder, or the small of her back. In my experience, these things always, always worked on girls.
They didn’t even penetrate the thick shield surrounding Red. I practically had to beg her to give me attention. But she’d only flicked me off like dirt from her sleeve, dusting her hands off for good measure.
It was humbling.
It was always a given that the girl I liked felt the same way. With Red, I felt unsure for the first time. It was messed up.
Maybe a night out with Lily was just what I needed. Maybe I needed to get back to my routine, back to my life before Red. Maybe then I would stop thinking about her.
“Sounds good. I’ll call you, Lil.”
She leaned close and kissed my cheek. “Can’t wait.”
But I didn’t call Lily.
Instead, I holed up in my room, flipping the sticky note Red had left on the fridge in my fingers. I stared at the ceiling as Radiohead crooned low in my ears about a creep, a weirdo, and what the hell was he doing here.
When I heard a noise, I pulled out my earbuds. Footsteps—I knew it was Red. She always walked quietly, warily, as if she was scared to make a sound. A few seconds later, I heard a door close. I quickly glanced at the clock and noted it was 7:00 p.m.
I jumped off my bed. I’d knock on her door, ask if she wanted to take another ride with me. But when I reached her door, my fist inches away from knocking, I stopped. Took a deep breath.
I knew Red was attracted to me. I could see the way her eyes lingered on me, the way she resisted smiling back. She was fighting it, and the last thing I wanted was to force myself on someone. So I retreated back to my room.
When my phone burped a text, it was from Lily.
LILY: Is it next time yet?
I blew out a breath and stared at my phone screen for a minute, debating whether I should go out with Lily or not. Red’s sticky note was on my bedside table, mocking me.
Fine. I’d forget Red tonight.
Lily was just my type. She was blond, blue-eyed, and sweet. I took her out to dinner. She laughed at all my jokes, agreed to everything I suggested, even asked me to come to her place after our date.
But when I walked her to her door, I politely declined her invitation to go inside, bid her good night, and left.
It wasn’t fair to her that I was thinking of a different girl.
How was it even possible to be obsessed with someone I’d just met?
With my temper simmering, I stepped on the gas and drove past the speed limit on the highway. Through the open window, the wind whipped my hair and slapped my face, taunting me.
When I reached the city, I pulled off the highway and parked my car in front of a twenty-four-hour store. I bought a big tub of peanut butter.
I remembered how her eyes had shone with delight when she spotted it at the grocery store.
I was so whipped.
By the time I got home, the lights were all off except for the one in the living room. I couldn’t help laughing as I recalled that time she’d hit me with a baseball bat.
It was already past ten. She was probably sleeping. I tiptoed to her door and was crouching to place the tub of peanut butter on the floor when the door suddenly swung open.
“You’re back already,” she said. Her voice was low, breathless.
Was she waiting for me?
I looked up, my breath hitching at the sight of her. Dark, catlike eyes stared at me. Suddenly it didn’t feel so ridiculous to be obsessed with someone I’d just met.
I cleared my throat. “Yeah.” I swiftly picked up the tub of peanut butter and hid it behind my back.
Had she seen it?
“Did you have dinner yet?” she asked.
I had, but if I told her that, she’d just go back in her room and ignore me.
“Are you hungry, then?”
Her lips twitched into a small smile, but it was gone as fast as it appeared. “Is that for me?”
Tongue in cheek, I said, “Is what for you?”
Her eyes warmed with laughter. “That peanut butter you’re hiding behind you.”
“Let’s make a deal. I’ll give it to you after you fix me something to eat.”
She nodded, and a lock of hair fell on the side of her face. My hand moved automatically, as if it had a mind of its own, and tucked the hair behind her ear.
It was irresistible.
She was irresistible.
A pretty blush appeared on her cheeks. “Pancakes?”
I nodded, feeling myself grin for the first time in days. “Pancakes.”