Smut


by Karina Halle

PROLOGUE

Amanda

New Year’s Eve

“You look absolutely ravishing tonight,” Alan says as he leans in to place a soft kiss on my cheek.

I pull back and eye him warily. “Ravishing? What are you, a duke all of a sudden?”

His blue eyes turn strangely shy and he averts them from my face, clearing his throat. In the background, the music seems to build as happy couples dance to and fro. “I’ll get us another drink,” he says quickly.

I frown as I watch him go, cutting across the dance floor and nodding at our friends. Ironically, Alan’s family is so wealthy that I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that somewhere along the line he’s related to a duke. It would explain why he walks around like he’s got a stick up his ass (hey, I’m dating the guy, I’m allowed to make fun of his posture. If he stood up any straighter, he’d be mistaken for a tree).

Still, he’s been acting weird the whole damn night. I know it’s New Year’s Eve and all, which has always been a rather big deal for us, but even so, Alan Kingston is normally smooth and unflappable. It’s one of the reasons why we work so well together—I’m the (hidden) hurricane and he’s the calm. Tonight, there’s something a little bit off that has me, well, really wanting another glass of champagne. Or ten.

The winter storm isn’t helping my nerves either. Outside, the wind batters the large floor-to-ceiling windows, causing them to rattle and shake. People let out little ooohs, coupled with nervous giggles as the rain pelts against the panes, like someone is throwing wet rocks. It’s also completely black outside which adds to the uneasiness. Beyond the stately lodge you know the beach is getting absolutely pounded by the ocean—you can feel the vibrations every now and then, even if you can’t see the angry waves.

Tofino has always been one of my favorite spots, even though I’ve only been to the sleepy surfing town a few times in my life, so naturally when Alan said we were doing our annual New Year’s Eve party here, I jumped at the chance. Over the last four years I’ve been with Alan, we’ve done New Year’s Eve in a cabin on Mount Washington, in the streets of Vancouver, on the beach in Mexico, and now at one of the most beautiful resorts on Vancouver Island, famed for storm watching in the winter, and surfing and whale watching in the summer.

Because last New Year’s Eve down in Los Cabos was so quiet and intimate, I was kind of shocked that he wanted to invite not only every single friend of ours, but his parents too. That set off a few warning bells that I really should have addressed because now I’m standing here, watching him get champagne from the waiter, and I’m deathly afraid of what’s going to happen when he returns.

You know when you just get a feeling about something, and even if it’s something you won’t let yourself think about, it still festers somewhere inside you? I’m starting to feel as gnawed up as a rotten log.

“Amanda,” Sarah Price says to me from behind.

I let out a sigh of relief, eager for the distraction, and turn around, smiling at her.

Sarah is a striking girl, tall and slender, with skin like polished marble and hair that flows like fields of silken wheat all the way to her waist. Her eyes are a rich, dark brown, shining like coffee. I know I’m going a bit purple prose over one of my oldest friends, but hey, it’s what I do.

Tonight she’s wearing a rather daring dress, a low cut black velvet gown that clings to her slight curves, giving her the appearance of an old-fashioned mannequin. She’s turning heads as usual, even though we’re pretty much around the same people here as we have been since high school. It amazes me that she’s managed to stay single for so long. I know she says she’s picky, but there’s a world of guys out there that would give their left nut (and maybe their right one) to be with her. Sometimes I wonder how I might have turned out if I had stayed picky too. I’d be single…but would I be happy? It’s something else that I don’t dare think about.

“I haven’t seen you all night,” she says. “How are you?”

I shoot her a placating smile and run my hand over my updo, making sure it’s all in place. It’s true I haven’t really said anything other than hello to her tonight, and over the last few months I’ve talked to her less and less. I still consider her a great friend, probably my closest one in some ways. But even though we come from similar families and were raised pretty much the same way, ever since I started university, I’ve felt this fissure between us. I’m sure this continental drift is natural when you’re twenty-one and figuring shit out, but I’m becoming more and more aware of it.

And it’s not just Sarah. It’s everything, including Alan and this party that we’re at. Once upon a time, these people were my world, but as time flies by, they’re starting to feel like strangers, and this world seems less like my own and more like a cocoon I’m supposed to shed.

But lord knows with my parents, shedding anything they’ve brought upon me is next to impossible.

Still I say, “I’m good. It’s kind of fun with this storm, eh?”

She wrinkles her nose. “Fun? It’s frightening.”

“Yeah, but being frightened is fun,” I tell her. “Remember when we used to go on night hikes and I would take off with the flashlight and leave you alone in the dark?”

“Oh yeah, real fun,” she says dryly. “You were the cruelest child, you know that? Scarred me for life.”

I can’t help but smirk. “Oh come on, that’s why you liked me. Everyone else was too boring.”

“Everyone else was normal,” she says and then blinks, as if catching herself saying the wrong thing.

I’m not offended. I know that out of everyone in my private school for rich bitches and the silver spoon elite, I was the resident weirdo. I tried to hide it, and still do, lest I risk the look of utter disappointment on my mother’s face every time I slip into geekdom.

“Well, normal is overrated,” I say. What I really want to do is open the giant glass doors and run out on the deck and into the storm, letting the rain ruin my makeup and hair and dress. I want to feel fucking alive from my fingers to my toes—I want to capture the lightning and hold it in my chest until I burst.

“Are you okay?” Sarah asks, putting her hand on my shoulder.

“Yeah, why?”

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