Just when I think to myself what next, it turns out I shouldn’t have wondered. Of course the paparazzi would show up. There’s an A-list celebrity on the premises.

Pressed against the living room wal like a ninja assassin, I peek out the window. Reid continues to work, paying no attention to the photographers, who are simply everywhere. They remind me of a nature special about army ants that I watched in a state of unmoving horror when I was six. Devouring everything in their col ective path, ants swarmed across the landscape in a bold undulating line of black. I couldn’t sleep for a week, until Deb convinced me that African army ants weren’t general y known to raid urban California.

Exhausted after a night of tossing and turning, I consider whether or not I’m hungry enough to risk appearing in even the outer fringes of those photos. This is ridiculous. Several hours stand between me and my next meal. I shouldn’t feel the need to skulk around inside because of some sil y photographers. Besides, they aren’t interested in me.

The Plan: go out, grab something to eat, dash back inside.

Minutes later, I’m skirting the crowd with a bowl of fruit and an iced tea when one of our corporate volunteers veers directly towards me, ogling the photographers gathered on the neighbor’s roof. Realizing too late that she doesn’t see me, I scoot as close to the patio edge as possible. As she passes, our sleeves grazing, I exhale in relief. And then she whips around and accidental y elbows me right off the patio’s four-foot no-railing-instal ed-yet drop.

Everything is slow-motion. Eyes widening, mouth rounding into a shocked “O,” she grabs for me as I lurch over the edge, backwards. She catches nothing but air, and neither do I. The bowl flies up, chunks of fruit tossed in every direction. The tea levitates from the cup in an arc above me. And though I know I’ve generated a squeak of surprise, I can’t hear anything—it’s as though the world has been muted.

If you’ve never fal en and been caught by someone before, I am here to tel you that the landing is not as smooth and effortless as Hol ywood portrays it to be. In reality, parts land where they land, and though hitting a human body is probably less painful than hitting the ground, it’s not like landing on a sofa or a trampoline or anything that gives.

My limbs stil flailing uselessly, my head slams against a shoulder and I knee myself in the chin as the body I’ve tumbled onto goes down under me. “Oof,” he says as he hits the ground, my elbow jabbing into his abdomen as he absorbs my entire body weight.

I don’t have to see his face—I know the voice—but I can’t help looking. With a yard ful of people looking on, plus several yards ful of photographers, I’m lying halfway on top of Reid, who is sprawled on the ground, holding me tightly, blinking as the blue sky rains fruit on top of us.

Camera shutters whir and snap in the distance. And to think, I feared being in the peripheral background of a photo taken of him.

I scramble to rol off of him, and he releases me slowly enough that I’m pul ing against his hold for a couple of seconds, until he realizes we’re not actual y fal ing anymore.


My iced tea has splashed a swath across both of our white t-shirts, and pieces of pineapple, cantaloupe and various berries tumble from our clothes and hair as we move to sit upright.

People who a moment ago were al frozen, agog, are rushing towards us, asking if we’re okay, helping us to our feet.

Mortified, I stare down at my soggy, fruit laden outfit. My legs are wet, too—rivulets of iced tea dripping from my shorts and snaking down the bare skin. I can’t look directly at Reid. “I’m so sorry,” I say in his general direction before mumbling, “I need to go clean up,” in answer to offers of assistance from half a dozen people.

Grabbing a stack of napkins, I walk inside, fighting the urge to run. The bathroom plumbing has been hooked up, thank God, though mirrors haven’t been hung yet. After mopping the tea from my legs, I press a damp napkin into the shirt where the tea has stained it, though it’s a hopeless gesture. Running my fingers over my head, I pluck out bits of fruit, struggling not to picture what might get into the gossip rags or, oh gol y, on the Internet tomorrow: Unbalanced Fan Tackles Heartthrob, see page 2.

Clumsy Girl falls for Reid Alexander—Click Here for Photos!

Good grief.

“You missed some cantaloupe.” Reid stops me from turning, one hand on my shoulder, his fingers in my hair, plucking a thin slice of orange melon from my ponytail. “It could be worse, you know.”

“Oh?” I’m sure he’s correct, but at the moment, I can’t imagine how.

“Sure. Spaghetti and meatbal s would be worse.

Chocolate milk. Sangria. That stuff stains anything, trust me.” He dislodges a blueberry from my shoulder and it lands in the sink, rol ing, leaving a purple trail. I make a mental note to get some bleach-containing cleaner from Roberta to scour the sink so it won’t discolor the white porcelain.

Picturing myself covered in spaghetti, I turn and face him without even a hint of a smile. “We don’t usual y serve pasta. Or sangria.”

“I guess you’re safe from tomato sauce and red wine stains then.” His expression is serious, but his eyes dance.


“Hey, make sure I don’t have any stray fruit in my hair, wil you?” He angles the top of his head towards me. “I ran my hands over it, but I think I missed some.”

“I don’t see anything… oh, wait. There are a few strawberry bits.” I try to remove the squishy stuff without actual y touching his head, which proves impossible.

Raspberry seeds are tangled along a strand a few inches over, and I give up and comb my fingers across his scalp, checking for concealed fruit.

“Mmm,” he says, as though he likes my hands in his hair, which is softer than I would have imagined. The bathroom suddenly feels very smal .

I drop the berries and seeds next to the one he flicked into the sink. “I don’t see any more...”

He lifts his head, his eyes stil playful, and I have no idea what he’s doing until he does it. At first I think he’s spied another piece of fruit in my hair, so I don’t react right away when he lifts his hand. The wal is only a foot or so behind me, and it takes little effort for him to push me to it, one hand cradling the back of my head and the other skimming my hip as he leans down. Something in my brain sparks awake and I jerk my face to the side as his mouth grazes the outer edge of my jaw. My hands come up to his chest and shove him. “Reid, no.”

He backs up immediately, hands up and out. Smirking, one corner of his mouth turns up and he shrugs. “Sorry.

Won’t happen again. Just, you know, curious.”

“About what? ” My voice is somehow steady, when I’m anything but. He almost kissed me. He almost kissed me.

He shrugs a second time, which makes me want to punch him. He’s so whatever. “I didn’t mean anything.

Seriously. Won’t happen again.”

There’s no responsibility to accept, because everything just happens around him, as though he’s at the eye of a storm he has nothing to do with causing or sustaining. I shove past him, my heart hammering. He barely touched me, and he stopped the second I protested. He said it wouldn’t happen again. Twice, in fact.

People glance up as I pass, ask if I’m okay, and I fix a fake smile on my face, tel them I’m fine, even while I feel like I might hyperventilate. Why? Because he’s a rich celebrity? Hardly. Because he’s beautiful? Because of his casual arrogance—that intangible thing he exudes that some women find so irresistible? No, and no.

Okay. Then why?

Because everything I wanted to feel when Nick kissed me last Friday, I felt in the near-miss that just occurred.

Chapter 14


Shit. Wel , that was stupid.

On the other hand, what the hel ? I haven’t been shoved away that decidedly in a while. If ever. I’m getting, like, Stockholm syndrome or something, and Dorcas is my jailer. That’s why I tried to kiss her, obviously. I need out of this situation as soon as possible.

Maybe I should have let her hit the ground, but when I saw that woman knock her off the patio, I just reacted. It wasn’t the most graceful fal or the most adept catch in the history of accidental dismounts. The consequences: my shoulder is bruised and one elbow is scraped raw, my abdominal muscles narrowly managed to withstand rupture, and I discovered—inadvertently, I swear—that Dorcas Cantrel is concealing some noteworthy curves under her col ection of enormous, altruistic t-shirts.

Once I’m in the car, I cal George—again. “Reid?” He’s surprised to hear from me within hours of the previous cal .

“Yeah, just an FYI on some photos that are probably being uploaded as we speak—a girl at the house sorta fel off the patio, and I sorta caught her.”

off the patio, and I sorta caught her.”

“Fell off the patio?”

“Someone ran into her. Knocked her right off.”


“No, some inattentive middle-aged woman.”

He ignores my quip. “So this girl you sorta caught—

she’s not underage, married, an il egal alien, a meth dealer…?”

I laugh. “Eighteen, single, and straight as the road to hel .”

“Um-hmm. Anything else I should know?” He hangs the question out there as he always does, no leading statements, no fishing for details. One of the many things I love about George. I trust him more than pretty much anyone and he knows it. He knows, too, that I’l be up front with him, even if I seldom fol ow his good advice.

“Nothing anyone would be privy to. She’s not interested in me, man.”

Outside the car window, East LA flies by, everything worn out, decrepit—the buildings, the sidewalks, even some of the light poles leaning—weary of the dismal setting. A guy with massive tattooed biceps steers his wheelchair around a fire hydrant that might or might not work if needed to put out a fire. Inches from the curb, he whips around the hydrant like it’s part of some serpentine course for wheelchair racing. If he misses a hairpin turn, he’l be in the street and run over. Extreme sports, disability-style.


I’m flattered by George’s disbelief. “Yeah, she’s a genuine do-gooder.”

“Ah, I heard we had one of those in LA.” George is a funny guy. “I guess it would be too much to ask that you leave her as you found her.”

Minutes ago I was impatient to be finished with this Habitat gig—and Dori. Tel ing myself that this too shal pass. George’s al usion to the end of my association with Dorcas Cantrel , or rather my reaction to his al usion, tel s me I wasn’t ful y connecting those two things. I’m surprised to find that I’m not ready for this to be over.

George sighs. “Oh wel , the suggestion was worth a shot.”

I tel him what I always tel him—and it’s the truth, for what it’s worth. “Thanks for the advice, man. I’l consider it.”



I’m. Such. A. Chicken.

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