Pricked (Page 43)

“Dude, you coming or what?” Pierce is walking several steps ahead of me. We’re running late for a Flaming Lips concert in downtown Chicago. It’s been snowing like crazy all day and all the idiots decided to get out on the road at the exact same time. I swear, the first snow of the year and people forget how to drive.

“Yeah, yeah,” I say. Keeping my head down and shoving my icicle fingers in the pockets of my jacket, I peer through a flurry of giant snowflakes. Parking down here is a bitch and the closest spot we could find was a half mile away, but we’re almost there.

We pass a couple of ritzy hotels, a jewelry shop, and a French café before passing under the awning outside the Skyline Tower—one of the tallest skyscrapers in the city. For a few seconds, we get respite from the snow showers, and I can see again. I glance toward the spinning glass doors that lead into the building, only to stop in my tracks because this time …

… this time …

… it’s her.

It’s really her.

“Madd,” Pierce is thirty feet ahead now, squinting through snowflakes and motioning for me to come on. “What the hell are you doing? We’re missing the opening act right now.”

I’m paralyzed, unable to move. All I can do is stand here watching her. A fitted dress the color of shimmering champagne hugs her body and her skin has a sun-kissed glow, likely from her time closer to the equator. Her hair is swept back and secured at the nape of her neck, showing off the feminine curve of her shoulders and the subtle dips above her collarbone. She’s smiling at someone, her nose crinkling as she laughs. But it’s almost a sad sort of smile—like she’s doing her best to move on, to bury the pain.

Brighton’s the only girl I know who can make a smile look sad, and it kills me to know I’m the reason.

“Madd!” Pierce yells.

I motion for him to go on. “I’ll catch up with you.”

My heart races in my chest. I’ve waited months for this moment.

I’m two seconds from going in when I realize she’s not alone.

Standing beside her is a man in an expensive suit, the recipient of her full attention. A moment later, he extends his arm and she hooks her hand into his elbow.

It’s a Friday night—I’m almost positive she’s on a date.

But not for much longer …

Before I have a chance to get to her, they disappear into the elevator and I find myself standing in the middle of the lobby, watching as the elevator stops on four separate floors before returning to the lobby without them.

I’ll search this whole fucking building if I have to—I’m going to find her. And I’m going to tell her how I feel.

How I really feel.

I’ve had a lot of time to think these last several months. Too much time, maybe. And I realized something. My entire adult life, I always looked at love as a game of sorts—you can’t lose if you don’t play, and if you are idiotic enough to play, the one who feels the least wins.

But it was a different kind of game with Brighton.

Rock. Paper. Scissors.

I was always the rock. She was always the paper.

And it was never about winning.

All she was doing was covering my dark with her light.

My hard with her soft.



I swear I just saw Madden …

“You okay?” Johnathan asks. We’re coming back to the reception after getting some fresh air outside, which lasted all of two seconds because apparently since we’ve been holed up in the Skyline Tower all day for various wedding festivities, it’s been snowing like crazy all over Chicago.

“Of course. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“You got quiet all of a sudden.”

Johnathan leads me into the ballroom where my brother and his bride are already tearing up the dance floor. The live band sings an Earth Wind and Fire number, and everyone’s twirling and swaying and singing along and making their rounds, flutes of champagne in hand.

Today’s ceremony was nothing short of breathtaking. It was all wintery silvers and icy whites and crystalline blues, a perfect December wedding.

Mom cried.

Dad actually smiled for pictures.

Not a single caterer or florist or bridesmaid was late.

Everybody held their peace.

As frenetic as the past week has been, it all worked out because everything went off without a hitch.

“You want to dance?” Johnathan asks.

My feet throb in my pointed heels. I’ve been running around in these since eleven o’clock this morning.

“Think I’m going to sit down for a bit,” I say. “But you go ahead.”

“Yeah, no. If I’m going to be out there making a fool of myself and doing the Electric Slide, then so are you,” he says.

I chuckle, deciding I’ll just have to dance barefoot tonight. “I’m going to need some champagne first.”

“Whatever it takes.” He winks before heading off to find one of the white jacketed servers carrying flutes of Cristal around the ballroom and I take a seat at our reserved table, sneaking an opportunity to check my phone since I haven’t so much as looked at it since this morning.

Shortly before I left for Honduras, my father gave me a new phone with an international plan. My old phone is off, sitting in a drawer in my room. I don’t even know if it’s still active, and I haven’t had the nerve to turn it on.

Part of me is dying to know if I have any missed calls or messages from Madden.

The other part of me is scared of how it might feel if there’s nothing …

After all, the last time I saw him, he was with his ex, and for all I know, they’re still together. Plus, the week after I left, he’d called me a couple of times, but I was still so upset about seeing him with Veronica that I wasn’t ready to speak to him, and then after I lost the baby, I figured there was no point.

But there hasn’t been a single day that has passed where I haven’t thought about him at least once.

“Your champs, madam,” Johnathan says, returning with two flutes filled to the top with golden bubbly.

“You’re the best.” I take one and we ‘cheers’ before taking sips. The strap of my dress falls down my shoulder for the millionth time tonight, and the sequins that cover the bodice keep digging into the skin beneath my arms, leaving red marks.

Needless to say, this isn’t a dress of my choosing, but given the fact that I’ve been away the last few months, my mother saw an opportunity and wasted no time seizing it.

“Johnathan!” His mother, Clarice, calls to him from across the room, waving him over. She must want to introduce him to someone.

“Time to be Mama’s Golden Child,” he says, tossing back the rest of his champagne. “When I get back, we’re Electric Sliding all over that dance floor.”

I laugh. “I doubt that song’s even on the set list.”

He shrugs. “So? We’ll Electric Slide to Al Green if we have to. Be right back …”

I sip my champagne and stare out the windows, to a midnight-black skyline peppered with the biggest snowflakes I’ve ever seen, turning downtown Chicago into a winter wonderland of sorts.

On the dance floor, Laurel and Eben are linking arms and twirling and laughing while the live band sings, “Shake Your Groove Thang.” She’s barefoot, laughing as he spins her around.

That’s what love should be right there—easy, simple, uncomplicated. Fun.

I hope my brother realizes how lucky he is to have found someone who wants to be with him as much as he wants to be with her.

Turning back to the window beside our table, I toss back the remains of my Cristal and gaze at the snowy kingdom outside. Johnathan’s elbow deep in some conversation with his mother and a few of her friends, so it would seem our Electric Slide is on hold for the time being. Placing my empty flute toward the center of the table, I turn around to scan the room for another server because the night is young and I’m not driving.

I spot one about ten feet away with a tray full of freshly poured champagne.

Rising, I gather my skirt in my hands and turn to catch the guy before he gets away—only to find myself face to face with a different guy.

“Oh my God.” I lift my fingers to my mouth. “What are you doing here?”

Madden Ransom stands before me, hands in the pockets of his jeans, looking every bit as casually gorgeous as he always has.

My heart stops, skips, and skids, and I swear the room gets ten degrees hotter.

“I need to talk to you,” he says.

“Now?!” I scan the room. Everyone’s doing their own thing, in their own little bubbles.

“Yes, now. I’ve waited almost four damn months to talk to you.” He hooks his hand around my elbow and navigates us around, through, and between dozens of round tables covered in white table clothes, dyed roses, and shimmering candles until we find a quiet spot in the hall outside the ballroom.

Before he says a word, his eyes fall to my stomach. I wonder how much he knows?

“How did you know I was here?” I ask.

An older couple, likely from Laurel’s side of the guest list, walk past us, their narrowed gazes lingering on Madden in his ripped jeans.

“You didn’t keep it,” he says as soon as they’re out of earshot.