Chapter 1

I've always been so sure of how my life would turn out. Like, I'm a pretty confident person. I'll get good marks, graduate, go to university. I'll become a psychologist, to give others a hand with their mental health. Then I'll get married, have some kids, retire a rich, happy woman with more grandchildren than I'll ever be able to count.

That's my life, right there.

But sometimes something unexpected happens. Even after you've planned everything down to the names of your children, and you've dotted the 'i's and crossed the 't's of your life's plan list. When you're absolutely positive about what it is you're going to be studying for the next two years in preparation for the rest of your life, some greater good throws you a curveball, and all that planning goes out the window and you realise something that you hadn't realised before.

Shit. Happens.

And there is nothing you can do about that.

I've always been a bit of an anti-social person. Not for a lack of friends – I have enough to keep me out of the 'loner' range – but because I just can't be bothered. I prefer to stay home, read and listen to my music than to go out and get drunk. So I can't help but feel out of my element as I get ready for a party that I'm only attending because of a lost bet.

I'm sorry I ever doubted you, Jenna. Turns out that vending machines do kill more people than sharks. Just in case you ever need that information. Thanks to that, I need to find something 'nice' to wear to this stupid party.

Unfortunately, there's nothing that I would constitute as 'nice' in my closet, so I throw on a pair of skinny jeans and a tiedye t-shirt. Perfect party get-up. I grab a jacket for extra insulation – it's already cold, and it's not even 8 – and I lounge on the couch, waiting.

Jordan, my older brother, is playing some blood'n'guts game on the x-box. He doesn't even look up as I enter. Probably doesn't even care. After a while, he speaks. "What do you want?"

"Nothing; I'm waiting," I tell him.

He kills a few more people on the screen. "For what?"

"My friends." He doesn't really need any more elaboration than that.

"I thought you didn't have any friends."

I scowl at him. Ever the ladies' man. "I have plenty of friends," I defend. "Not that you care."

He considers this for a moment as he blows up an entire building. "You're right; I don't."

Rolling my eyes, I sit up. "So you wouldn't care that I'm going to a party, then?"

"Nope."

"With a boy," I lie.

"That's nice." I'm not sure if he genuinely doesn't care, or if he's just to enthralled by his game to fully comprehend the meaning of my words.

"I'll be sleeping at his house."

"Cool."

My face falls flat. Out of all the brothers in the world, I get stuck with the one who doesn't give a damn. Not even the least bit protective.

There is the beep of a horn, and someone – most likely Jenna – shouts out some incoherent phrase. Taking that as my cue, I haul myself off the couch and drag my feet outside. I do not want to go to this party. Can't I just cut out a kidney instead?

Jenna is hanging out the passenger window, already drunk. Katie is des, because she's the only one of us with a license, and Ryan is sitting in the back, looking like he'd rather be any place than in the car. I have to agree with him, as I join him in the backseat. Jenna tells us some story about when she was chasing ducks down the river naked the first time she ever got drunk.

"Hey, this is your first time drinking! We should celebrate!" Jenna enthuses. She twists around in her seat to face me. "We should christen you in alcohol."

"We should not," I assure her. No way am I having someone dump a can of beer over me. And chances are I won't be drinking, anyway.

"Please!" Jenna begs. She gives me the puppy dog eyes, but the effect of them is lost when she retches.

"Do not vomit in my car," Katie warns.

"I'm sorry."

"I will kill you."

Jenna pouts. "It's not my fault!"

"Maybe if you didn't drink so much, you wouldn't feel sick," I tell her, wondering again how I got myself into this mess. A bet. A stupid bet.

"Oh, shut up. You need to have some fun!"

"I do have fun!" I defend.

Ryan snorts in his shadows. "What, reading? Oh yes, tonnes of fun. Here we are."

Katie parks the car on the side of the street, which is already packed. I can hear the wub, wub, wub of some shitty dub-step song from inside the vehicle. We all hop out, Katie doing a quick vomit sweep, and make our way to the respective house; I trail unenthusiastically behind the others.

As soon as we cross the threshold, Jenna vanishes. Ryan mumbles something about finding alcohol, and Katie and I huddle in a corner, trying to save our ears from the horrible music. "Is this what you do every time you go to a party?" I yell.

"No, not really," she yells back. She's scanning the crowd, probably looking for Jenna.

"If I go to hell, it's gonna be like this."

She smiles, and for a moment I think it was at my comment, but then she excuses herself and works her way through the crowd to where her boyfriend, James, is. I scowl. So they forced me to come to this stupid party, and then they abandon me? Great.

Hugging myself, I inch back into the wall, in case someone was planning on sneaking up on me or something. Most of the people are drunk, and the rest of them, like me, look like maybe they shouldn't really be here. A girl stumbles past me, a spray of liquid vomit erupting from her mouth, narrowly missing me. I wrinkle my nose in disgust.

Definitely do not want to be here.

Something on the opposite side of the room catches my eye, and I glance up to see a young man leaning against the wall, while a blonde girl talks animatedly to him. He looks very uninterested in her, but the girl obviously doesn't notice it. She pulls off a thin cardigan, revealing a poorly covered chest, and takes a step closer. Taking a sip of his beer, he glances at the girl, sighs, and turns away.

He looks older than the rest of the people here; most of them are in my year, making them between 16 and 18. But this guy is at least 20, maybe older. No more than 25. I'm bad a guessing ages, but it's somewhere in there. His runs a hand through his dark hair and does a scan of the room. When he notices me staring, he smirks. He doesn't smile, doesn't grin; he smirks. And, like the idiot I am, I smile back. He takes this as some sort of confirmation, waves the blonde girl off, and makes his way over to me.

Great. Just what I need. Mr Popularity knocking at my door.

"You look interesting," he says when he's in earshot.

I flush. I look 'interesting'? What, as opposed to a cheeseburger with chocolate topping instead of sauce? Or is he comparing me to a dog with glasses and a cane? Of all the compliments and insults in the English language, he goes with 'interesting'.

He leans closer to me. "Name's Alex."

Despite his dark features, his eyes are a bright blue, and I find myself momentarily speechless. "Uh, hi," I reply dumbly.

I mean, he's cute. And I like cute boys.

He raises a dark eyebrow. "Don't have a name?"

I compose myself. "If I tell you, will you leave me alone?" I ask. What were the terms of this bet? Can I leave now, or am I required to stay here for a certain amount of time? An hour? Two hours? Until Jenna is ready to leave? God, I hope not; I'll never get out of here.

Alex considers this for a moment. "No," he finally answers. "But if you tell me your name, I'll be nice."

It's my turn to raise an eyebrow. "So, let me get this straight," I begin. "I'm stuck with you, either way..."

"That's right."

"...but if I tell you my name, you'll be 'nice' to me?"

"Well, I'll try my best," he promises.

I laugh sarcastically. "Well thank God; I was worried about being bullied."

He rests an arm on the wall beside me, leaning forward again. I can feel myself shrinking under his gaze as his eyes rake my body. "Are you gonna tell me, I should I start guessing?"

For a moment I consider letting him fire off names, but realise that it'll probably be more annoying. "Savannah," I tell him with a sigh.

"Is that what your friends call you?"

"No, it's what my mum calls me when I'm in trouble."

"Ouch. That's cruel; I thought we were friends," he says, pretending to be hurt.

I study him for a few seconds, as his expression goes back to when the girl was talking to him. It's unreadable, unnervingly so. No hint of any emotion on his face. Is he bored of me now, or what?

"What do you want?" I ask, hugging my chest self-consciously. I jerk my head in the direction of the girl he blew off, who's now glaring at me from the couch. "What do I have that she doesn't?"

Alex shrugs. He doesn't even look at the girl. "You look a bit like you walked into the wrong house and couldn't find your way back out. I figured you could use some good company."

I laugh. Well, he's not too far off the mark. "Thanks for that observation, Sherlock."

Another smirk. "Besides, there's more to life than girls like that; she knows what she's here for. You don't."

"I lost a bet," I explain. "Turns out vending machines kill more people annually than sharks."

A dark eyebrow shoots into the air. "That was the bet? And you lost it?"

"Oh, come on. Since when did vending machines kill people?" I question. It's a fair point when you think about it. In between your shark movie collection of Jaws (all of them), Great White, Deep Blue Sea, 2-Headed Shark Attack and Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus, do you have the blockbuster hit Killer Vending Machine?

No.

Didn't think so.

"Fair enough, then. You're from around town?"

I nod. "I don't live here just for the fun of it."

He offers me a drink. God knows where he pulled it from, because he did not have it a moment ago. "What do you do with yourself, Sav?"

"Not a whole lot, to be honest," I admit. "And it's Savannah."

"Well, Savannah, there's a party on tomorrow night," he tells me. "17 Jameson Street. I need to leave now, but I'll be there tomorrow."

Did he just invite me to a party? Yeah. He did. I blink. Maybe I will go if he's going to be there. Wait, no, what am I saying? I don't want to see him again. He's intimidating, annoying and the way he looks at me makes me feel as though he knows what I'm thinking. "Thanks, but I don't think I'll be welcome. Sorry."

"Why not?" he asks. "It's my party." With a smirk that must be his signature, he leans into me, his lips brushing against mine.

My heart stops as he reaches a hand up and tangles his fingers in my hair. The smell of his cologne reaches my nose, and I can taste alcohol and nicotine on his lips as he presses me into the wall.

"If it makes you feel better, bring a friend," he whispers, before disappearing into the throng.

I stare into space, shocked. Letting out a deep breath, I touch my fingers to my lips. He kissed me. Some guy who I've never met before just kissed me.

I mean, I've been kissed once or twice before, but never just, randomly. Who the hell does he think he is, anyway? He can't just go up to girls, ask them their name, and kiss them. I'm so shocked that I don't realise Jenna approach me until she speaks.

"Who was that?" she asks.

I shrug. "I have no idea. Seriously."

She sways as she puts on her best 'I don't believe you' face. "He kissed you."

"Yeah. He did."

"I mean, I didn't even know you had a boyfriend. The least you could have done was told me." She grabs my arm suddenly, to stop herself from falling face-first into the carpet.

I scowl at her. "Jenna, I have no idea who the hell he is." And I am not going to his party, I mentally add. I shake her off me, and she wobbles dangerously. "In any case, I'm going home."

I wake up the next morning to the sound of shooting. Dear God. Please strike a bolt of lightning down onto my brother's x-box. Amen.

"Jordan!" I scream, stomping down the stairs. "It's barely 7!"

He ignores me, as is custom, and continues to shout into his microphone at people on the opposite side of the world. "You idiot! Get out of the way!"

I leave him to it and go make myself a cup of coffee. I'm still conflicted about this party tonight. I don't really want to go; I barely know Alex, I won't know anyone there, and parties just don't mix well with me. But I can't stop thinking about the feel of his lips on mine, the smell of his cologne. Is it possible that he'll kiss me again?

No. Stop thinking about it. You're not going. You're going to stay here and read.

"Hey! Make me a coffee, will you!" Jordan yells. Then, to the TV, says, "You useless prick! My grandmother's a better shooter than you are, and she can't even get to the toilet herself!"

I purse my lips. "Make it yourself," I snap. I take my drink and retreat to my bedroom.

Books are strewn across my bed, unable to fit in my pathetic excuse for a bookshelf. I place my mug on my bedside table and make room for myself. My parents don't understand how I can sleep in it, what with all the books, but I manage.

Grabbing the closest book to me – the Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss – I pry it open to where I left off and begin to read. As much as I try to concentrate on the words, however, I can't help but think about the kiss, and Alex's smouldering blue eyes.

What will one party hurt? Just one more, and I'll never go to another again, I promise myself. Not for as long as I live. I frown. What time was it on? I don't recall him giving one. I strain my mind. Nope. No time, just an address. Great.

He said I can bring a friend, though. I debate who to take. Katie? She's usually des by default. I can get her to drive me home when I've had enough. But she won't really have fun – I doubt there will be anyone there she knows. Ryan is out of the question – I can't show up to Alex's party with a guy – which leaves but one choice.

Jenna.

She'll enjoy herself, oh yes. I'm just not too sure if it's worth the risk; what if she does something embarrassing? Or tells them just how boring I am? What if she cracks onto Alex? I don't want that to happen. Guess that means I'm going on my own.

I spend the whole day trying to decide what to wear, even though I'm limited to jeans, more jeans, short jeans, and an array of shirts ranging from tank tops to t-shirts. I really need to expand on that.

Fortunately, it's warmer than last night, and I go with shorts and a tank top. After having a quick shower, I dress, grab my jacket, and am out the door by 7. Jameson Street is within walking distance of mine, and it's even closer when you cut through the park.

It takes about 10 minutes to get there, and I'm relieved to see I'm not early; the music is already pounding, and people are showing up left, right and centre. I watch them for a short while to assess the clothing situation. They're dressed in styles ranging from barely anything, to jeans and a t-shirt, to formal. So basically no one was told the dress code and everyone made their own up. Excellent.

I join in with the crowd, jostling and shoving people to get inside. Feeling claustrophobic, I retreat to an empty corner, scanning the room for Alex. I can't see him anywhere. This was stupid.

Someone, already drunk as hell, shoves a full cruiser in my hand, says, "here ya go, love," and stumbles off. I glance down at the drink, open it, sniff and take a sip. Tastes like raspberry cordial. Shrugging, I drink it, watching as people talk and laugh and fall over. The drunken person who handed me the drink is face-down on the couch. Aside from them, no one else even acknowledges me, and Alex still hasn't made an appearance.

Telling myself how stupid this decision was, I hug myself and pretend I'm part of the furniture. I must do a pretty good job of being a floor-lamp because no one pays me any attention. They walk past, drinks in hand, chatting away to their friends, too busy to wonder about me. I manage to down my drink and score another one from the hands of a passed out party-goer.

People-watching is fun, so it's not the worst time in the world; I enjoy living vicariously through others, and drunk people live. The young guy in the corner, trying to pick up two chicks at once – succeeding, despite his youthful appearance. In the kitchen, a girl on the phone crying – suspected break up. Against the wall, me, steadily getting drunker and I somehow have done a shot of death liquid and actually I should probably go home now.

I push my way through people, stumble over feet, and almost reach the door when a hand grabs my wrist, and I'm being pulled back into the crowd. I spin around to face Alex.

"Leaving so soon?" he asks.

"I should probably go," I tell him with a shrug. "Sorry."

He smirks. "Stay for a while. Have a drink." Someone hollers at him. "Don't leave me with these people."

"What do you 'these people'? I thought this was your party," I counter. And I am not having anymore drinks.

"I made the mistake of letting my boss organise it," he admits.

I glance around. The house is already a mess, and it's only going to get worse. "Your boss? You must have a lot of faith in him."

"I used to."

I laugh. "I can see how you'd lose that faith after this. Good luck with the cleanup."

Before he can answer there's a smash, a chorus of 'ooh's, and someone bursts out laughing. "You should probably replace that before mummy and daddy get home," I tell him.

He chuckles. "Mummy and daddy don't live here." He pulls me through the crowd, up the stairs and shoves me into an empty bedroom. Considering it must be his, it's rather neat. Not a single article of dirty clothing anywhere. I'm impressed.

As he closes the door behind him, my stomach churns. I wipe my clammy palms on my shorts. "Is this how you seduce me?" I joke. I sit down at the foot of the bed.

Leaning against the wall, Alex studies me. I drop my gaze, squirming. Don't think, he can read your mind. Don't think, especially not about the kiss – crap. Stop thinking.

"I'll be honest, I didn't think you'd actually come. Especially not alone."

I flush. There's no way I'm telling him I came because I hoped he'll kiss me again. No way. Especially if he wasn't expecting me in the first place. "Why'd you invite me?" I counter.

Crossing his arms over his chest, he shrugs. "You looked interesting."

"I sit in my room all day reading books. Still sound interesting?"

"Read me a lullaby?"

"Buy me dinner," I retort, before I can stop myself. I bite my fist so I can't incriminate myself any more than I already have.

Alex chuckles. "Is that all it takes to get in your good books?"

I duck my head to stare at my feet and shrug. "I'm gonna regret all of this in the morning."

Alex reaches a hand under my chin, lifting my head until I'm looking at him. I hadn't even heard him walk over. His face is just inches from mine, and I can smell his cologne, the Alexe as last night. I breathe it in. He pushes me onto my back. I gasp in surprise as he hovers over me.

My breathing is rapid as his lips press down on mine, fusing together. What to do, what to do? I panic because I've never gotten this far before. What if I do something stupid? Everything that I thought I'd ever do in this situation escapes my mind, so I just kiss him back, wrap my arms around his neck, and hope he doesn't notice.

He runs a hand up my thigh, tickling the sensitive skin as he runs it up, under my top, to massage my breast. I moan into his lips, squirming at the touch. I feel him smirk as he moves his hand back down, and he rubs me. I gasp and dig my nails into the back of his neck.

I lose all sense of time and thought, abandoning reason and common sense. I refuse to admit to myself that I shouldn't be doing this, that I barely know this guy. Pleasure takes over as he touches me. I don't want him to stop. He breaks apart to tear off our shirts, and unhook my bra.

I become self-conscious when he takes my bra off, and I go to cover my breasts, blushing furiously. With a chuckle, he leans into me, grabbing my wrists and securing them above my head. His breathing is laboured as he kisses me again, moving from my lips to my neck, to my breast.

As he gets to work on my shorts, there is a bang, a squeal of laughter, and the door flies open. I scramble backwards off the bed, grabbing the closest article of clothing I can find to cover myself, as Alex turns to face the intruder, a lot less perturbed than me.

The girl in the doorway stares from Alex to me, her eyes narrowing. It's suddenly become verrry tense in the room. "Hi, Alex."

Alex scowls. "What do you want?"

"I came to wish you a happy birthday. And I was hoping we could talk."

A happy birthday..? I blink. It's his birthday? The shock must be showing, because the girl says to me, "he's 22 today. Surely you must know that? Oh!" She fakes horror. "Or maybe you're just another whore he paid, to make it look like he's over me."

I don't say anything because I'm too shocked. Alex shoots off the bed, grabs the girl's arm and practically throws her out the room, following after her. He slams the door behind him, and I can hear him yelling. She screams back as I briefly wonder if he does think I'm just a whore.

Or maybe he'd just throw me the whole 'I'll call you' card, and never actually do it. The thought that I was going to go along with it makes me feel worse. How many girls has he slept with? I guess I almost made it on the list.

Ashamed, I search around the room for my bra and top, throwing them on before he comes back in. They're still fighting, so I open the door and step out. They both turn to me. I hand Alex his shirt. "Have a nice birthday," I say, before rushing down the stairs.

"Hey! Savannah!" Alex calls me, but I ignore him.

I push through the crowd, roughly shoving people out of the way as I head for the door. This was a stupid, stupid idea! I knew it was when I made the decision to come. How idiotic could I get?

Once I get outside I can speed up the pace. 10 minutes to get home, and I can put all of this behind me. I barely reach the end of the street when Alex catches up with me. He grabs my arm, forcing me to stop. "Savannah. Hey!"

I struggle to break his grip. "Get off me."

"Don't listen to Emma, there's a reason we broke up."

"What, the money ran out?" I spit. I yank my arm out of his hand, angrily wipe away unwanted tears. "I'm not a whore, Alex. I'm not. Just leave me alone."

I leave him standing there, and start off home. I get halfway through the park when I hear footsteps. He's following me. Great. I spin around, ready to give him a mouthful. "I said to leave me alone, Alex! Are you..."

I trail off because the man behind me is clearly not Alex. He's significantly older, for a start, and his hair is longer and greyer. "Oh... I'm sorry," I mumble, embarrassed. "I thought you were someone else."

"Ah, don't worry about it," he says. "Shit happens."

I give him a weak smile. "Yeah." I turn back around and keep on walking. The footsteps continue, as well. I try to keep my breathing steady as I speed up, but the man speeds up as well.

The exit is only a few metres away. I break into a run but don't get very far when another man appears in front of me. I skid to a stop. "What's wrong, darling?" the man behind me drawls. "Why are you running?"

"Stay away from me," I warn. Or what, Savannah? You'll hurt him? You gonna take on two full-grown men on your own? You idiot.

My breath comes out in short gasps as I search for an escape route. I can't see one. They'll chase after me, either way, and I doubt I'm faster than the both of them.

"Now don't be like that. We just wanna chat."

I laugh sarcastically. Chat. Of course. "What, a nice chat that ends up with me dead in a ditch somewhere?"

"Oh that's just rude, love. How about we all go back to my place and we can-"

"Savannah!"

The men look back to see Alex rushing towards us. I never thought I'd be so glad to see him, but here I am. He passes the first man, grabbing my hand and pushing me behind him. "What, you've got a problem?" he asks, as the men stare.

"We were just talking, weren't we, darling?"

As much as I don't want to, as much as I'd love for him to beat these creeps black and blue, I seize his arm with one hand, squeezing his hand with other, and pull him back, because he looks like he's about to kill the both of them. "Don't," I beg. "Let's just go."

He takes a while but finally gives in. "Yeah, alright." He pulls me in the direction I was heading, watching the two men.

"Have a nice night," one of them sneers.

When they're out of ear and eyeshot, Alex speaks. "Are you alright?" he asks.

I nod. "I'm fine. Thank you. You followed me?"

"Well, I realised it wasn't a smart idea to let a girl walk home by herself at night."

"You know, I always walk through there. Never had any problems," I tell him. "I thought it was safe."

He scowls when I tell him. "Oh yeah, really safe."

We walk in comfortable silence as we enter my street, hand-in-hand, until we reach my house and I pull him to a stop.

"This is me." My house looms in front of us, dark and silent. "I guess mum went to bed already."

I turn to Alex. What do I say? Thanks for saving me, even though I ruined your night? Thanks for an almost good time, even though your stupid ex-girlfriend called me a whore? I wonder if it would be wrong of me to kiss him, just once more. Probably.

"Well, enjoy the rest of your night," I say because it's the first thing that comes to mind. "And... thanks." I turn and head inside, leaving him standing there. It's only when I get inside do I realise I left my jacket in his room.