Micah put an arm around my shoulder and ushered me to a waiting town car. The driver touched his cap and opened the door for me. Unnerved and somewhat thrilled by my moment in the spotlight, I turned to gawk at the crowding paps. A bright light blinded me temporarily, and I saw spots as I slid across the leather seat of the sedan.
Micah climbed in, and I had a brief moment to wonder if any of my friends or loved ones would yell at me later for taking the risk of riding home with a relative stranger. Both Zion and my mom popped up on my shoulder, alongside the devil, shouting, “Go! Go! Go!” I secured my seatbelt.
Once the driver had taken his place behind the wheel, he turned around to ask for my address, and then we were off, leaving the crazy cacophony behind us.
The inequality of our status slammed home all at once, and the sudden dark silence exacerbated my awkwardness. I had no idea what protocol I should follow when crammed into such a small space with my natural prey. Should I make small talk? Or maybe Micah wanted me to interview him. I stared into the night, overwhelmed with shyness and uncertainty.
“I honestly don’t know what to make of you.”
He scooted closer and brushed against me. He’d never strapped on his seatbelt. “Copy that. I’ve been trying to figure you out all night.”
Ignoring my mostly rhetorical question, he reached up and pinched a strand of my hair, sliding his fingers down before letting the lock drop onto my shoulder where it sprang back into shape. “You really do have beautiful hair.”
I shook off the mini-thrill his touch sent through me. I didn’t want his flattery to take me in. “You didn’t answer my question. Why are you being so nice to me?”
“Journalist, through and through.” He took my hand, so gently it was as though he were afraid it would detonate any minute. “And yet, I can tell your curiosity isn’t cynical, not yet.”
I felt the rough calluses on the tips of his fingers, and as he squeezed a little tighter, his pulse and mine became an interchangeable rhythm against my own fingertips. I concentrated on holding still, afraid to encourage him to move any closer, afraid he’d pull away.
The cab was dark, and I spoke softly. “Tell me why you picked me out of all the other photographers there.”
“It’s not that easy, Jo.” He sat quiet, and I waited for him to collect his thoughts. “Eden gives me a hard time for running mostly on instinct. But even she grudgingly admitted I may have been right about you. You’re like the sheep in wolf’s clothing.”
I didn’t laugh. “You don’t think I can do my job?”
“I didn’t say that. Eden praised your photography skills. And you’ve got me here alone, sharing my secrets.”
“Because it’s off the record. And you don’t think I have it in me to take advantage of that information.”
He ran his thumb along the back of my hand, and I couldn’t contain the ensuing shiver. His lips curved in the slightest knowing smile. “I think you have it in you to be an amazing journalist. But no, I don’t think you’d pass the tabloid journalist aptitude test.”
I snatched my hand away, indignant. “So you plucked me out of the paparazzi pool to take pictures of your party because I’m so bad at it?”
“I never asked you to take pictures. I offered so you’d agree to come in.”
I replayed his invitation, his promise that I’d get better pictures inside, his reaction to finding my camera on after he’d left me alone for a few minutes, his sudden announcement to the party guests. “Oh. I assumed.”
He’d slowly moved closer as we talked, and now his face was mere inches from mine. It would take so little to lean forward and taste his lips. A butterfly twisted in my gut at the thought of kissing Micah. If we took a sharp turn or hit a pothole…
But this was Micah Sinclair. Micah Sinclair. He’d probably seen the longing in my eyes on the faces of a million other girls. I scooted another inch away. “Do you always pick up girls from the paparazzi pool? Or only the incompetent ones?”
He licked his lips, and my first traitorous thought was how much I wished I could do the same. I swallowed. I didn’t want to become a notch on his belt.
“I’m sorry.” He had the audacity to smile that charming half-smile—more mocking than sincere. I nursed my wounded pride. “I didn’t mean to insult you. Honestly, I do sometimes invite photographers into our parties, but when I’ve invited Wally Stephens inside, I never had any thoughts of doing this.”
He closed the gap and brushed his lips against mine. He smelled slightly of cigarettes and tasted of liquor, two vices I denied myself. I drew back and sucked the air into my lungs. He gazed into my eyes, so close, my rapidly blinking eyelashes butterfly kissed his. A million and one questions exploded in my head, all of them screaming, “What does he want?”
I shut off the protesting voices and looked into his intensely curious eyes. He was waiting for me to say something. Or do something. I leaned forward and pressed my forehead against his, closing my eyes, leaving the ball in his court. When my shoulders relaxed, he pressed his lips against mine again, harder, but still soft, and I couldn’t resist running my tongue across his lower lip. He pulled away and inhaled sharp. He looked back and forth between my eyes and must have seen how much I wanted him to do it again.
He ran his fingers through my hair, holding tight at the nape of my neck and drawing me toward him. When he kissed me again, everything I thought I knew about Micah Sinclair flew out the window. My hands lay flat across his chest at first, but I dared to reach up and touch the side of his neck and the tight muscle running along his back to his shoulder. He groaned, and my heart wouldn’t stop pounding.
The car came to a stop.
I glanced up. “Oh,” I croaked. We were outside my apartment building.
Micah’s breath came shallow and fast. He was looking at me more intently than any person had ever looked at me before. I shook my head to clear the confusion. Would he expect me to stay in the car or get out? Would he expect me to invite him up? Should I invite him up? What did he want from me?
Before things could get awkward, I gathered my camera and my things and opened the car door without waiting to find out what the driver intended to do.
Micah climbed out after me. “Jo.”
I could see a light on in my apartment, meaning Zion was awake.
Micah grabbed my shoulder and turned me toward him. “I’m sorry. Did I make a mistake? I shouldn’t have—”
“No. God, no.” The shaking started in my legs. I needed to bring up my blood sugar, but I thought I could make it upstairs—if I left immediately. I said, “I have to go. I’m sorry.”
I lurched away. My hands trembled as I punched in the key code outside the front door. Micah was still saying my name, but I was desperate to make it inside at least. The lock released with a sharp buzz, and I was in, thank God.