Prologue – What Was
"Now," I breathed into Fletcher's ear, dancing a couple of fingers lightly along the back of his neck and then abruptly pulling away through the crowd.
I sashayed towards the door leading out into the garden, knowing that he was watching the sway of my hips, knowing that he wasn't going to say no to me this time.
The party was in full swing, the place was packed, but who cared that other people saw? Who cared that he wasn't mine to have? The power made me breathless, made my heart beat faster and a pool of heat start deep in my belly and spread down lower…
Years of flirting and fighting, of verbal foreplay and subtle caresses and it was finally going to happen. Right now.
I leant back against the weatherboards in the cool air outside, ignoring the clusters of smokers eying me interestedly. My interest was on his way.
I started to count silently in my head. 1…2…3…
He barrelled through the door and snatched me by the wrist, glaring at the smokers until they turned away, and then dragging me round the corner of the house where we slipped into shadow. Hidden by an unruly rhododendron dripping with blood red flowers he leant into me, making us the only two people in the world.
"What are you doing to me?" He muttered, his breath hot against my cheek. "How do you always manage to do this?"
I wriggled against him enjoying the way his muscles contracted at the contact. "Talent," I said archly.
He cursed and then he was pushing me back against the house, his mouth covering mine. He tasted of sun, surf, beer and victory.
I hummed low in my throat and started to pull at the buttons on his shirt, pushing the fabric back and dragging my nails across his chest.
This was why I'd snuck out tonight, to collect what I'd wanted for so long from him. This was going to make everything OK. How could it not when everything about him, from the way his build swamped mine, to the precise positioning of his grip on my hips, was just...right?
I arched as he rucked my dress up and pressed forward, hitching one of my legs up around his waist. My head fell against his shoulder and, for a moment, we paused, panting.
"What are we doing?" He whispered, his lips brushing against my neck. "Lara, what the hell are we doing?"
"This." I used my leg to press him even closer against me and then turned my head to nip at his ear. "And don't you dare stop."
It was a game and I was used to winning. Maybe that was why I never really thought about my competitors. That changed with Salida. It changed the moment we went back inside, our clothes rumpled, our faces flushed, and she was waiting for us.
Her look seared me, burning away my satisfaction at finally sinking into the release of her boyfriend; his kisses turning to ashes in my mouth.
"If you wanted him, why didn't you take him when you had the chance?" Her voice had been quiet, her lilting accent making her harsh words sing. "Why wait until I wanted him, until we wanted each other? It's sick, Lara, the things you do are sick."
Sick. That word landed on my skin and seeped into every pore, twisting through my brain until it found its match, my mother's voice breathy and panicked, 'your brother is sick'.
"You can take things from people, you can even take people from people, but you're never going to get what you want," Salida had continued in front of everyone, her words condemning. "You're never going to be worth anything. You're never going to be any good."
It wasn't the worst thing I'd ever had said to me, far from it, but it was those words I found myself repeating over and over to myself later that week as I stood over Donny's coffin.
You're never going to be any good.
And, although I believed down to my very core that what Salida had said was true, I decided then to start trying to change anyway. I tried to be better. I tried to be stronger.
I tried to be good.