By: Amy Murray

Coming off the dance floor and in desperate need of rest, I grabbed my drink and scanned the crowded room. Just as I was about to turn back to my friends, I saw a guy sitting alone at the corner of the bar. He was impossible to ignore, like seeing the only still figure in the middle of a whirling cyclone, and when our gazes met, the world around me ceased to exist. There was no sound, no movement—only us.

I looked away and picked up my drink. Swirling the contents, I tried to focus on what Gracie was saying, but it was no use. I took a sip and peeked over the rim of my glass to find his gaze hadn’t wavered. He lifted a bottle to his lips and turned away from me only when Xander, Gracie’s best-friend-should-be-boyfriend, clapped him on the shoulder and leaned in toward his ear.

I pulled on Gracie’s arm. “Hey, who’s that Xander’s talking to?”

She glanced at them and rolled her eyes before she groaned. “That’s James, one of his friends from high school. I met him once. He’s—” She lifted her shoulders and scrunched her nose. “Different. And a little frightening.”

“What do you mean?” I asked, my curiosity piqued. My gaze wandered over Gracie’s shoulder, unable to keep my eyes from searching for his.

“Look at him. He’s a little too…intense if you ask me.” She sipped her drink, and I stole another look. Intense? I’d agree with that. But frightening? That I couldn’t decide.

Gracie propped an elbow against the bar. “Are you interested?”

“No, of course not.” I waved to the bartender and pointed to my empty drink. “I just haven’t seen him before, that’s all.”

Gracie ran her tongue over her teeth, and her eyes narrowed. “You’re lying.”

I opened my mouth to say something in my defense, but she held up her hand and spoke before I could get out a word.

“Remember when I talked about making some mistakes tonight?” She paused to let that sink in. “Don’t make him one. The things Xander’s told me—you don’t want to get involved with that. Trust me.”

I searched for James, wanting to see the danger Gracie was talking about, but he wasn’t there. He’d disappeared into the crowd, leaving Xander alone at the bar.

“I’m going to the bathroom,” I said, pushing myself away from Gracie.

“You want me to come?” she asked when I stepped away and stumbled in my heels. I righted myself and shook my head.

“No, you keep our seats. I’ll be fine.”

“Don’t go looking for mistakes,” she called after me.

I rolled my eyes and shook my head, leaving her standing in my wake. I moved through the sea of bodies, but bypassed the ladies room after seeing the line and stepped onto the patio instead. It was quiet and nearly empty, the cold having chased most everyone inside. My heels clicked against the concrete in an uneven pattern as I swayed across the patio and braced my hands against the iron railing.

“For a girl who can dance like you, I’m surprised you can’t walk a straighter line.” The voice was deep, and close enough that I jumped. My head snapped to my right and my breath caught in my chest, causing my already nervous heart to double its speed. James placed his hands in his pockets and stepped from the shadows, moving with casual elegance—smooth and unhurried—to my side.

His black hair was a little long and curled around his ears. A dark stubble shadowed his face, and thick black lashes framed equally dark eyes. He didn’t smile. In fact, he didn’t look all that happy about being here with me, but when I met his gaze, his eyes told a different story.

My cheeks flushed, and I shook my head to break the connection. “I don’t normally dance. I guess I got carried away. It’s my birthday, and—” I let go of the railing, meaning to turn toward him, and I stumbled. He caught me by the elbow, and my skin warmed as if he infused something of himself into me. “Thank you,” I whispered, unable to think of anything else when the only thing I could concentrate on was his hand and that it was still holding my arm.

Letting go, he nodded, and a few beats of silence followed.

“Your name’s James, right?”