Zanny has been a thorn in Gabe's side since they were children, but, when she goes missing, Gabe realizes that maybe the thorn he's racing to find is really the rose he's been waiting for his entire life.
There wasn't much that Zanny Jamison wanted out of life that she hadn't already managed to somehow attain. After all, she'd worked hard all through high school in order to get into her top choice of colleges (Swarthmore), and then, at Swarthmore, she'd busted her butt to try to make it through in order to graduate in the top five percent of her class. She'd managed that as well, which was why she was, currently, enrolled in law school at the University of Pennsylvania. In just under a year, she hoped that she would finally, finally have that position at a prestigious law firm that she'd dreamt of since she'd been five.
So while Zanny had gotten much of what she'd aimed for—okay, nearly all of what she'd aimed for—the one thing she didn't have was the one thing she wanted quite possibly more than any other in her life.
She wanted Gabriel Adams' love.
Considering Gabe was ridiculously short-sighted and only interested in the closest blonde bimbo in a slutty outfit, Zanny figured she'd be waiting years before he even deigned to look at her.
It wasn't as though he hadn't been given plenty of opportunities to notice her, she thought bitterly as she scrutinized her appearance in the mirror. They'd grown up together as their parents had been old college friends, and, now, she and Gabe were both attending the same law school. And, as if that weren't enough opportunity, their parents had thought it would oh so convenient if Gabe and Zanny shared an apartment in Philadelphia as well.
"It's just perfect and so cost-effective," Mrs. Adams had gushed as she'd introduced the idea in the middle of Sunday dinner one weekend during the summer before law school. It had been a toss-up as to who had been more flabbergasted—Gabe or Zanny.
Of course, it had been impossible to dissuade their parents from the idea, so, two months later, the lease signed on their spacious apartment ten blocks from the Penn campus, Zanny and Gabe had reluctantly moved in together.
What Zanny had begun to dream might be the perfect opportunity to capture Gabe's heart had gone down the drain within days of moving in together. After all, there wasn't much of an opportunity to attract Gabe's attention to the fact that she was a woman in between running to class, writing papers, spending hours in the law library…and watching the handsome and enigmatic Gabe Adams go through the female population of the law school in record time. By the end of their first year, he'd been through all of the Penn women and had moved on to the harried med students at nearby Jefferson Medical School.
Zanny had grown quickly disgusted by the activities she could hear going on in Gabe's room so often that she had taken to spending the night in the law library or with sympathetic friends.
Now, they were a quarter of the way through their final year of law school, and she was afraid that Gabe would never see her the way she needed him to look at her. In a last-ditch effort, she'd decided to attempt the tried and true method of making the man jealous.
One of her friends had suggested she sign up for an online dating service, and she'd finally met a man she decided she'd be comfortable seeing offline. Sebastian was a local investment banker, and he'd sounded so wonderful in their online and phone conversations that there were times she'd wonder why she was even waiting for Gabe when she had Sebastian out there.
And then she'd take one look at Gabe slouching into the kitchen for his morning shot of coffee. There would be stubble coating his chin, his sun-streaked brown hair would be standing on end, and his blue eyes were bleary with fatigue.
"Coffee," he'd croak, and she'd fall head over heels for him all over again.
"Pathetic, Zan," she told herself now as she began to clip her wildly spiraling dark red curls into submission. "It's just pathetic how that man has you wound around his finger and probably doesn't even know it." She jabbed a pin into her hair in a frustrated motion and sighed. "Well, maybe going out with Sebastian will be a wake-up call for him. Let's hope it is," she added and knocked on her wooden dresser for luck.
Stepping back, she examined her appearance. Her makeup was, for once, elegantly applied, her hair looked fairly managed, but, best of all, she loved the dress she wore. Zanny had spent several hours of precious studying time scouring the Avenue of the Arts and South Street for the perfect outfit and had finally found one in a dingy vintage shop that she'd nearly overlooked because of its appearance. Good thing she hadn't, she thought now, because the dress was the best thirty one dollars and fifty-eight cents she'd spent in a long time.
The deep green shade emphasized her eyes, and the cut of the dress highlighted her plain Jane body. Though she couldn't boast the big busts and tiny waists that Gabe's playmates of the week did, she figured she looked nice enough. The dress had little cap sleeves, a scooped neck, and was snug in the bodice before it fell softly to her knees. There was soft lace around the hemline and edging the sleeves, and Zanny figured she'd never looked better.
She just hoped Gabe would notice.
Taking a deep breath to calm her nerves, she slipped on a pair of flats, grabbed her beaded clutch, and opened her bedroom door.
The sound of whistles, cheering, and Gabe's muffled curses met her ears as she wandered down the hall towards the common room of their apartment. There, she found Gabe immersed in an Eagles game, a bowl of popcorn lying forgotten by his side and a bottle of beer at his elbow.
He waved his fist at the television screen before flopping back on the couch and muttering to himself. "Goddamn refs! Can't see an offside even though they're paid for it. Fucking New England."
Zanny rolled her eyes and obscured his view of the TV as she crossed the room to head towards the front door. Gabe hissed at her. "Jesus, Zanny! Move out of the way, you'll make me miss the next play!"
"Well, it's good to know I won't be missed," she replied cheerfully as she grabbed her SEPTA pass for the subway.
"Missed?" Gabe's head turned, and he frowned at her. "Where the hell are you going?" His eyes narrowed as he took in her appearance. "What are you wearing?"
She resisted the urge to roll her eyes. "I'm wearing a dress, Gabriel, and I'm going out on a date. It's Saturday night, and I'm going to meet Sebastian in person for the first time. I just wanted to look nice." She turned in a quick circle. "What do you think?"
"Who the hell is Sebastian?"
Zanny felt like doing a quick jig at the irritation in his voice. "Oh, he's this wonderful investment banker I met online. We've been talking for a couple weeks now, so-"
"Why the hell do you need to online date? That's just pathetic."
Her hopeful spirits plummeted. "Thanks for the confidence booster, Gabe."
"I'm just saying. You never know what kind of psychos you'll meet out there."
"Sebastian is not a psycho."
Gabe barely flicked a glance in her direction as her voice heated. "Whatever. You're an adult, you can take care of yourself, right?"
"Okay, well make sure he doesn't lure you back to his place, so that he can kill you or something, Zan. Our parents would kill me."
Zanny resisted the need to scream. "Again, Gabriel, thanks for reminding me that you are only interested in yourself."
"First and always, baby."
Her hands balled into fists, and she could clearly picture herself punching him in the face. "For your information, Sebastian is from a wealthy Wall Street family, and I doubt he'd do anything to hurt me. Like I said, he's a wonderful man. Maybe he's my one," she added, trying to earn a reaction from Gabe.
"Keep dreaming, Alexandra." He turned his head to look at her again and frowned. "Don't leave your drink unattended."
"Yes, Father." She rolled her eyes this time. "So how do I look?"
His frown deepened before he turned his attention back to the television set. "You look fine."
"Wow, Gabe. A girl could fall madly in love with you with compliments like that," she returned sarcastically before sighing internally a little. Of course. Of course he wouldn't notice her. She could probably strip down and dance naked in front of him, and he wouldn't know she was a girl.
Gabe waved his hand distractedly in her direction. "Yeah, yeah. Just go already. You're distracting me from the game."
"So, you're just planning on staying in and watching the game all night?" she asked, trying to stretch the conversation out, hoping beyond hope that he'd look her way again.
He shrugged and took a swig from his beer bottle. "Jess is coming over later, so try not to be too loud when you get back."
"Great. Fine. Have fun." Her mood completely destroyed at the mention of Gabe's latest girlfriend, Zanny yanked the door open and slammed it shut, hoping that it had irritated him.
Maybe she should just get over him, she thought viciously. She didn't need to put herself through this constantly, did she? Maybe Sebastian would be the answer to her prayers.
Inside their apartment, Gabe's brows knitted, his scowl deepening, before he wholeheartedly shoved his attention back at the game. It was just his luck that it no longer held any interest for him.
By the time she got off of the subway, Zanny's anger had slowly dissipated. After all, she reasoned with herself, it wasn't as though Gabe's words had been any different than what she'd been expecting. He didn't think of her as more than a surrogate sister, so, really, she shouldn't be angry with him at all. It wasn't his fault that he couldn't think of her as someone he could remotely be attracted to—just as she hadn't been able to help the fact that she'd fallen for him.
But, please, God, she thought as she began to walk down Market Street towards the restaurant where she was to meet Sebastian, please couldn't Gabe at least feel even the tiniest inkling of attraction for her?
When icicles formed in hell, she supposed gloomily.
As she approached the upscale restaurant where she and Sebastian had agreed to meet, she noticed the line of patrons that stretched for several yards down the block from the entrance and struggled not to sigh at the fact that her growling stomach would have to wait for a while. Keeping a smile on her face, she moved towards the crowd, hoping she'd recognize her date.
Even as she walked closer, a tall, fair-haired man stepped away from the group of people to meet her. Zanny had a moment to think, Oh, perfection, before he spoke. "Alexandra?" His voice was rich and smooth, and her smile grew.
"Sebastian? It's so nice to finally meet you." She held out a hand and felt a quick flutter in her belly when he took it and lifted it to brush his lips over her knuckles.
"You're as lovely as I imagined," he told her and proceeded to produce a single red rose from behind his back. "For you."
Zanny took the flower and sniffed it delicately. "Thank you. This is certainly a promising start to the rest of the evening." Then, she glanced over his shoulder at the waiting line and tried not to sigh. "Well, aside from the wait to be seated, of course."
"What wait?" Sebastian placed his hand at the small of her back and gently guided her through the line and up to the maitre d'. "Luis, is my table ready?"
The small, portly man beamed at Sebastian. "Of course, sir. Right this way."
When they were seated in a cozy corner booth, Zanny took another moment to admire how wonderful Sebastian looked in the muted light of the restaurant. "Well, I guess you must have the magic touch, huh?"
"Nope. Just the forethought to call ahead and reserve a table." He smiled at her, appealing creases winking at the corners of his dark grey eyes. "I'm really glad we've finally met, Alexandra. You've no idea how long I've wanted to see if you were as lovely in person as you are on the Internet or over the phone."
Zanny shivered a bit, unsure if it was the atmosphere or Sebastian, but she managed a smile. "And? Do I pass?"
"With flying colors," he told her with another smile just as the sommelier stepped up to their table.
Dinner went immensely well as Zanny and Sebastian hit it off over terrific courses. In the back of her mind, she let herself wonder if she shouldn't just give Gabe up completely and aim for a real relationship with Sebastian, who had more than proven that he enjoyed her company and found her attractive.
As she took one last, indulgent bite of the chocolate mousse Sebastian had ordered for her, she grinned at him. "I don't think I've ever had quite such an enjoyable date. It's going to be hard to top this one."
"And we're not even done yet," he assured her with a genial smile as he stroked a finger over the back of her hand.
She liked the way his touch seemed to send a line of heat through her. "Oh? What else is on the agenda for tonight?"
"Dancing. I know this great place near South Street, and I think you'll like it. At least, I hope you'll like it," he added a little more uncertainly.
Zanny liked the way he seemed just a bit uncertain about her. She didn't want a man who thought he knew just what she'd like or what she should like. "Well, dancing will certainly help me keep the pounds off after this amazing meal. Excuse me for just a bit? I think I'll freshen up before we head out."
"Sure. Take your time."
When she returned to the table, Sebastian had just finished up paying the bill and topped off her wineglass one last time.
"Oh, Sebastian, I don't think I should be having anymore," Zanny began, but he smiled at her.
"It's good wine, and what's the harm? You're not driving, are you?" he pointed out.
"No, but-" She narrowed her eyes. "You're not having any?"
He lifted a shoulder. "I'm driving."
"You have a car?"
Sebastian chuckled. "Of course, I do. I travel often between the different branches of the firm I work for, so it comes in handy."
"Oh." Zanny picked up the wineglass and, taking a few sips from it, set it down again. "There. I really shouldn't have more than that, or I'll barely be able to study tomorrow."
"Lightweight?" He wondered as he stood and held out a hand to her.
She placed her hand in his and nodded with a sheepish smile. "Unfortunately."
"Well, let's see if we can work the alcohol off your system with that dancing I've promised you," he replied and guided her out of the restaurant to where his car was parked at the curb.
Zanny slid into the buttery soft leather seat and sighed. "Wow."
"I like it myself." Sebastian smiled at her before turning the car on and sliding them into traffic.
As they wove their way towards South Street, her head began to feel impossibly heavy as her eyelids began to droop. "Sebastian, if you don't mind, I'm just going to snooze for a minute. Wake me up when we get there?"
Her voice was slurring, and she barely felt his hand stroke over her head gently. "Of course. Sleep tight, Alexandra."
AN: So, when I first started this story, I meant for it to be a long one-shot, but I think it's going to be more of a shorter long story. Anyway, let me know what you think! And, don't worry, I haven't forgotten about Zoey or Aubrey and River! I promise I'll get to them soon...I'm just working my way through these shorter stories to warm myself back into my writing groove again! Thanks for reading!