Until Langston’s end-of-the-year party for their senior class.
“We’re playing Seven Minutes in Heaven.” Langston brought two hats and a pad of paper down to the basement where most of the girls danced to an ‘N Sync song that blasted from the CD player.
Talmadge leaned over the pool table and sunk another striped ball into the corner pocket. As he sized up his next shot, Langston whispered in his ear. “I’m rigging the game, so I can go in the closet with Sandra. Who do you want to be with?”
Talmadge just wanted to play pool. But before he could tell Langston to leave him out of the game, someone tugged on his arm. He glanced over his shoulder. “Miranda.” Her name tumbled out. She stood at his arm, the top of her head barely reaching his shoulder. Shiny black curls cascaded over her shoulders. The sweater she wore left little doubt that she’d matured even more over the school year.
Langston looked from Miranda to Talmadge, raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. “Okay whatever, dude. It’s your ass.” He walked away.
“No, wait!” Talmadge called after him. He was not going into the closet with anyone, much less someone under age. But Langston was swallowed up by the ocean of partying teenagers before Talmadge could tell him so.
Langstons’s younger sister, Lorenda, waded through the crowd and appeared next to Miranda like a hornet whose hive had just been rattled.
“What’s the problem?” She gave Talmadge a put-out stare. “Can’t you or my brother take ten minutes away from your entourage of groupies to help rearrange my bedroom furniture?”
Talmadge blinked. “Huh?”
“Um.” Miranda’s usual confident air was gone, and her voice came out low and unsteady like she was shy…or nervous. “I was just about to ask him.”
Lorenda grabbed his shirtsleeve and dragged him toward the stairs. “Come on, Tal. It’ll just take a minute. Me and Miranda moved the dresser, but we can’t get the bed to budge. We’ll take one end and you can take the other.”
Lorenda’s tall but slender frame, didn’t stop her from hauling Talmadge upstairs like he was a sack full of dirty laundry that she had to drag behind her. He shot a look that said ‘Help!’ over his shoulder at Miranda, but she shrugged. Then she gave him a shy smile and a dimple appeared on each of her cheeks.
The toe of Talmadge’s hiking book caught on the stair, and he stumbled.
Lorenda didn’t slow, and he grabbed the handrail to steady himself. It wasn’t taking the stairs at lightning speed that stole his breath. It was Miranda’s dimples. Dimples that he couldn’t touch or taste because they were off limits. He was eighteen and Miranda Cruz was still a kid. A beautiful kid that didn’t look at all like a little girl. She looked like a young woman. A fucking gorgeous young woman. With dimples that made his mind wander to places it shouldn’t.
But hell no. Talmadge couldn’t afford to get mixed up with any girl right before going off to college, especially one that was still in high school. A girl might shake his concentration and interfere with his plans for the future. The plan he’d formed to make up for his parents accident. To finally earn the favor his grandparents showered over him. Allowing his emotions to cloud his judgment had been deadly once before. Even if he had been just a kid, it had altered the course of his life, turned him into an orphan, and broken his grandparents heart, filling their lives with grief.
So he had to ignore Miranda Cruz, do Lorenda’s bidding as quickly as possible, then get the hell out of there.
He spent the next fifteen minutes moving the damned bed that was as heavy as a truckload of bricks. After swinging it around to butt up against the opposite wall, Lorenda decided it was too far left. So they scooted it to the right.
She stood back and looked at their handy work. “No.” She rubbed her chin. “I like it better the way it was.”
Talmadge glanced at Miranda and a current of energy skated through him. Her gold-brown eyes held adoration, something he didn’t deserve.
“Okay, let’s move it back,” Lorenda commanded her troops.
Talmadge and Miranda groaned at the same time, which made Miranda giggle. Lorenda ignored them and grabbed her end of the bed. Miranda settled in next to her and gave Talmadge a knowing smile as they lifted the bed again. The reappearance of those dimples made Talmadge’s pulse kick.
With the bed back in it’s original location, Talmadge rubbed his aching lower back. “Are we done?”
Lorenda studied the layout. “Wait…let me think.”
Talmadge fought off an eye roll that would probably get him smacked by his best friend’s sister.
Arms crossed over her ample breasts, Miranda went and stood next to Talmadge. Her flowery perfume made him even more aware of what a young woman she had grown into. “How many more moves do you think? My money’s on five,” Miranda whispered to him.
“Four,” Talmadge said. “Is that a bet?” He smiled down at Miranda. When she looked up at him, a feminine blush had inched up her neck and stained her cheeks.
Her lashed dropped to brush against the delicate skin under her eyes, and then she looked up at him again. “You’re on.” She held out a hand.
His hand—rough and callused from sports and doing carpentry work with his grandfather—engulfed hers. The softness of her fingers curled around his hand and around his heart.
Their gazes locked, and Talmadge wanted to make her smile again just to see those dimples.
“Okay, let’s switch it to the far wall,” Lorenda said.
Talmadge and Miranda both startled, the spell broken.
They did what they were told. Miranda didn’t say a word during the entire drill…at least it felt like a drill. His two-a-day workouts during football season had been easier. Five moves later Lorenda was finally happy with her new bedroom layout, and Miranda had won their bet.
“Okay, you can go now.” Lorenda didn’t even look at him. She held up a new poster of the latest and greatest boy-band.
“Sure. You’re welcome. Thanks for letting me move your furniture.” Talmadge tried to sound as sarcastic as possible, because Lorenda was more like a sister to him than a friend.
Not even a glance from Lorenda. “Sure thing, Tal. Anytime.” She tacked the poster to the wall.
His amused irritation wasn’t lost on Miranda. Her shoulders rocked with silent laughter, and she bit her lip. She went to Lorenda’s nightstand by the door, and picked up a magazine, pretending to read behind it.
Talmadge went to the door. “So, about that bet.” He leaned against the doorframe. “What do I owe you? We didn’t discuss the stakes.”
Miranda lowered the magazine, and time stood still for a beat when she smiled and those dimples appeared again. He held her gaze for what seemed like an eternity.
“How about you just owe me one?” Miranda’s voiced sounded like a purr, the nervous thread vibrating through it barely noticeable.
Dangerous. Not part of my plan.