I swayed in time with the music, my arms over my head and a red solo cup gripped in one hand. Sweat, beer, and hormones permeated the family room turned into a dance floor. House parties weren't my scene, but tonight I was someone else, anyone else but Everly Scott.
The clothes, the makeup, the music, the half gone drink in my hand, none of it was me, but I wanted to prove to Preston, to myself that I wasn't boring and predictable. I could be fun and spontaneous. I could let my hair down, hike up my skirt, and not give a fuck about what anyone else thought about me.
Or so I told myself.
Actually, not caring was harder than it sounded in my head, despite that every girl here was dressed like me, worse to be honest. Even my best friend was scantily dressed in a tight cranberry-colored shorts that had part of her butt cheeks hanging out, bouncing in time with her perky, perfect boobs barely contained in a black bra. The lace tank she wore was sheer and added to her sex-crazed kitten look she loved to portray.
"I fucking love this song!" Sam yelled over the bass. The ends of her dark hair dyed aqua spun in the air as she twisted her head from side to side. Sam was bold and bright just like her choice in hair and wardrobe. She did and said whatever was on her mind, her mouth born without a filter. We often joked that she came out of her mother's womb flipping the bird to the world.
Opposites attract. That was a true statement to describe my friendship with Sam, and until she had transferred to Seaside Prep my Sophomore year, I hadn't known how much I needed someone like her in my life.
"Who doesn't?" I countered with a smile and shook out my long blonde hair. The two glasses of spiked punch already working its way into my system, loosening my muscles. I was feeling great, without a care in the world.
Sam was short for Samantha, but calling her by her given name would earn you a black eye. My best friend had a thing for boy names...she had a thing for boys was more accurate—all boys...and girls, but never the same one in the same week. And her tight athletic little body got her the attention she craved from both sexes. It didn't matter which, they all loved her.
Sam was the life of the party everywhere she went and I was the best friend living in her shadow, content to let her take the spotlight.
"Keg stand!" some jock screamed over the music, bumping his plastic cup against the dude next to him and spilling both of their drinks down their arms. Idiots. But the crowd got rowdy in response.
What was so fun about these parties again? Why had I let Sam talk me into coming out again?
Right, because Preston was being an ass.
At the thought of my boyfriend, I lowered the cup to my lips and drained the remaining punch. "I need another," I yelled to Sam, who nodded and weaved her hand through mine, leading me through the crowd toward the kitchen at the back of the beach house all the while swaying her hips.
I was drunk. Like the room was one drink away from spinning. I shouldn't have gotten so out of control tonight, but Preston and I had a fight and I let Sam convince me a party was what I needed to take my mind off him. Surprisingly, I was having fun. Too much fun thanks to the booze.
Tomorrow I would regret every second of this night, but for now, I was going to milk every last drop of the concoction in my cup. The kitchen was a disaster, littered with red cups over the counter, empty bottles of liquor, and half-eaten boxes of pizza. Someone had spilled a bag of chips on the sticky tile floor and the broken pieces crunched under my wedges. Filling up my glass, I took another long swig of the bright green drink that looked like it could have been toxic and refused to let myself think about perfect Preston.
Half the girls in this room thought me a fool. They dreamed about being in my shoes, in a relationship with the younger Malone boy. Preston was 30A's perfect boyfriend. He was too damn perfect, and apparently, that was a problem for me. I didn't want perfect. It was hard enough living up to my dad's expectations, but Preston's too.
In reality, he was a great guy. Too great.
In the three years we'd been dating, longer if you count the fact our families have been friends forever, Preston had only ever been supportive, sweet, caring, loyal, and dependable. Everything a girl could ever ask for in a boyfriend. Preston had always been a part of my life, and even when he pissed me off, I couldn't imagine my life without him. I loved him.
And I would forgive him. Come tomorrow morning, he would apologize and I would forgive him. Things would go back to how they were.
I loosed a sigh.
"I thought the point of tonight was to forget about captain douche?" Sam said, seeing the frown I didn't know was on my lips. Unlike everyone here, Sam didn't come from old money or any money at that, but had to climb, scrap, and claw her way through life. She thought Preston was a pompous, rich douchebag who spent too much time playing lacrosse with his equally wealthy dickhead friends. They never really gotten along but tolerated each other for me.
I forced my mouth to curve upward and looped my arm through hers. "It is. No more thoughts of Preston. I swear. Now, let's have fun."
She didn't look like she believed me, but then a sultry smiled curved her lips and we were back on the dance floor, swaying and laughing. "This is our last party as high school girls. In two weeks, we'll be college hotties."
"And roommates," I added. Sam and I had both been accepted to Florida State University. It would be the first time Preston and I weren't in the same school. He had gotten into the medical program at the University of Florida where his father had attended, about three hours away from FSU.
"We're going to own that school," Sam said, twirling me.
I rolled my eyes. Sam was bright, but I was pretty sure she planned on majoring in parties with a minor in how much sex could she have in four years. I lost myself into the music, the chatter throughout the house, and the alcohol.
"Oh shit, Tristan's here," Sam said, grabbing my arm.
"What?" I yelled back, stumbling over my own feet. No way in hell did I actually hear what I thought she said. The music continued to pound, but I stopped moving.
Some guy bumped into me, his hands going to my hips. "Hey, beautiful. You need a drink."
"What? No," I said, shaking my head and lifting my drink. "I got one." I tried to shake him off, but his hands wouldn't budge, so I took a sip of my punch, debating if I should be dancing with this guy or not.
Sam leaned in closer, weaseling her way around the guy who seemed reluctant to let go of my hips. Her eyes went over my shoulder. "I said, Tristan-fucking-Malone is here."
I spit out my fruity drink, spraying it all over my best friend's face. No way Tristan Malone would ever come back to one of Lang's parties. He wouldn't be seen dead with a bunch of pussy frat boys. His words, not mine.
"What the hell, Ever!" Sam shrieked, staring down at the black lace top now splattered in spiked punch.
"Now you definitely need a drink," the guy who I'd forgotten grinned. He was the least of my concerns and I thought he wandered off but didn't care one way or the other.
It couldn't be true. Tristan couldn't be back. Preston would have told me. If his older brother had moved back home, surely he would have mentioned it to me.
I blinked, shoving a hand into my messy locks. "Sorry, Sam, but I swear you said Tristan is here."
"I did. Look." She puts her hands on my shoulders and spun me around.
"You must be drunk, Sam. Even if he was back, Tristan would never—" My eyes locked onto a pair of piercing blue eyes, a lump suddenly forming in my throat. Butterflies danced in my belly. I squinted, wondering if I was supposed to be seeing two of him, but then they merged into one glorious body. Oh, my God. It's Tristan.
And he was headed straight this way.
My pulse quickened as I watched him stride across the room with a carefree swagger no other guy could mimic. The music faded into the background and I just stood dumbfounded in a sea of people. In the year since I'd last seen him, he hadn't changed much, perhaps a bit more toned and an additional tattoo or two, but he was still the guy who looked as if he was born to wear only black. Who had a wicked dimpled grin and smelled like midnight on the beach. Dark. Sensual. And Alluring.
He reached me, slipping a hand under my elbow, glowering at me. He was always glowering. "Ever, it's time to go." Those were his first words to me in over a year.
"But you just got here," I replied, slurry my words as I pressed a hand to his chest, smiling.
"And now you're leaving," he insisted, nothing warm or welcoming in his tone.
I swayed on my feet, slipping my arms around his neck. "Dance with me, Tristan." I always loved the way his name rolled off my lips. "Tristan," I said again and giggled.
The nice guy who had gone to get me a drink was back, scowling at Tristan who only scowled back. He handed me a cup, which I gladly took. "Get lost," Tristan rumbled at the confused jock. I couldn't remember his name, or even he had told me his name. It didn't matter.
The poor guy held up his hands and backed up. "I'm not looking for any trouble."
I giggled again, finding his reply funny. Tristan oozed trouble. "Thanks for the drink," I said, my voice a little too high and bubbly.
Tristan shook his head, his arms reaching out to steady me. My drink sloshed over the rim and down the front of his shirt, but damn if it didn't still look good on him. "Sorry," I replied, looking up at him with a smile.
"How many of those have you had?" he demanded, ripping the cup from my fingers as his lips pulled into a tight harsh line. I'd dreamed about kissing those full lips too many times to recall, but only dreamed, for it was wrong to fantasize about your boyfriend's brother, but they were just that. Fantasy I would never act upon. He sniffed the half-empty cup, those sapphire eyes darkening.
Sam was at my side. "What are you, her dad? Chill out."
"Fuck off, Samantha," he said with a crooked grin full of cockiness, drawing out her name in a way that drove her batshit crazy.
Returning a smile equally as menacing, Sam gave Tristan a vulgar gesture. "Why don't you go back to whatever back alley you crawled out of? We're having fun and you're killing our buzz."
Tristan tossed the glass to the floor, the bright green liquid spilling all over the carpet. He forked a hand through his messy, dark hair, staring down at me with that intense glare, the one that made most men shrink. "Fun's over."
"I don't know why the hell you insist on hanging out with this family," Sam said to me, ignoring Tristan.
I was still staring, unable to believe he was here—at a house party nonetheless.
"Find your own way home, Samantha. She's coming with me."
"Like hell," Sam hissed, but Tristan was already moving, dragging me with him through the crowd grinding to the music. The smart ones parted or moved aside to let the ominous, tattooed badass through. Tristan drew eyes everywhere he went, but usually in a parents hide your daughters way.
"I said, it's time to go." And before I could contemplate what he was doing thanks to my foggy alcohol brain, Tristan bent down and picked me off the ground, tossing me over his shoulder.
"Shit," I mumbled, watching the floor spin.
"If you puke on me, I'll toss your ass in the ocean," he warned as his long legs ate up the ground toward the front of the house.
He should have thought about that before he decided to haul me around like a bag of trash.