What the actual fuck was she doing here?
Brittanica Jones hovered in an alcove of San Francisco City Hall, the site of her senior ball, the last time she’d been in the same place as most of these people. She’d wanted to keep in touch with only one friend, and he’d dropped her flat their freshman year of college. It still hurt. Even if she didn’t have time to dwell on it.
She’d hated high school. Hated it.
The only bright spot in her life then had been her friend Peter. He’d been her sounding board and her confidant. He’d never criticized a thing she’d done until she’d chosen Caltech over Harvard. Even that had only been because he wanted company at the Ivy League school.
But like everything in her life, her friendship with him had come to an end. An ugly end. She’d texted him and called him and he hadn’t answered, probably out meeting “old money” friends and making his first million.
His defection had hurt badly. Wounded her in an elemental way that she still wasn’t over.
But when the reunion committee had announced that Peter was coming, she was curious.
So here she was at the site of their senior dance. She’d gone with Peter, as friends, because they’d both broken up with their significant others at the time.
Tonight’s venue had been chosen by the reunion committee—made up of former popular kids who probably were married to each other, living in their McMansions, vacationing in Cabo or Hawaii, wearing their non-conflict diamonds, and raising their five-thousand-dollar purebred dogs.
Even if they were miserable as hell, they’d be happy to tell you how awesome their life was over a twenty-dollar glass of chardonnay before going home and downing an entire bottle of Two–Buck Chuck.
Britt had pulled out her interview outfit, black tight skirt and black cardigan twinset—kill her now—from her closet, left her Chucks at home, worn her patent leather Docs, and actually applied makeup.
But now she couldn’t make herself take those final steps toward the room where all the classmates she’d been happy to leave behind were congregated. If the idea of being scared, of leaving without going inside, hadn’t been as bad as her mother’s agoraphobia, she might just turn around and head home. But she didn’t want to become her mother. She couldn’t afford to become her mother, because then who would take care of them?
Peter was a big shot now. He’d started his own companies, sold a couple of them and now he had shit tons of money. He wouldn’t want to reconnect with his freak-show friend from high school who lived in a crappy apartment in a sketch part of Oakland while taking care of her mother. Of course, he didn’t know that because he’d ghosted her.
But curiosity had gotten the best of her.
While she hid in this little alcove, a decently jacked Asian guy in pressed jeans, a crisp white button down, a lightweight navy blazer, and slate-blue Chucks on his feet sauntered past her.
With a quick glance at his face, her heart stopped in her chest.
Her pal, and yet, not.
Peter Nguyen had been skinny, awkward, and wore glasses.
This guy… This guy could star in an Asian action-adventure film. His hair shiny black, shaved in the back and cut long in front, loosely flopped over one eye, like a hot manga character come to life. He cut down the hallway with confidence and an unmistakable swagger.
That was Peter? So not only was he richer than God but hot as hell. This was clearly a mistake. Britt took a breath to quell the butterflies in her stomach as she watched the way he moved with liquid grace.
This Peter would have no interest in shooting the shit with an old pal who was recently passed over for promotion because she couldn’t spend all her days and nights in the office and had to work from home. She was a second from turning around and getting the hell out when he paused at the entrance. His shoulders lifted, fell slowly, as if he’d taken a centering breath. She recognized the gesture because she usually had to center at least once a day.
That little hesitation, that small show of nerves, had her exiting from her hiding place and following him. He grabbed the door to the ballroom and yanked it open.
Britt scuttled after him.
Peter Nguyen walked into San Francisco City Hall and stopped abruptly.
It was like walking into a time warp.
He was at his high school reunion.
No one was more surprised than he was. High school had been one long marathon of school and activities that would get him into Harvard. The dream of every kid who had a decent GPA. He hadn’t hated high school. But it hadn’t been fun either. The only person who had made high school bearable was Brittanica Jones, his best friend until she’d quit responding to him toward the end of their freshman year of college.
Just the thought of stepping foot back into the Muir High School social scene had him breaking out in a sweat. He had a primal need to turn around and go design some new code.
Or invent some pressing business that couldn’t be put off and get the fuck out of here.
He had no desire to re-live the emotions of his high school years. And he realized that he didn’t care if he reconnected with any of these people. He only cared about seeing Britt. He’d meant to call her last week, but work was insane right now.
For some reason, the reunion committee wanted to present him with some stupid award and have him give a small speech. Honestly if the request had come from anyone other than Caroline, the cheerleader he’d had a stupid crush on when he’d been in high school, he would have said no thank you.
Really, what was he doing here?
Of course, when he’d gotten the invitation his initial impulse was to show up all the people who hadn’t given him the time of day during high school. But really, he just wanted to see Britt. Ask her why she’d ghosted him.
She’d been at Caltech and he’d been at Harvard. Equally prestigious but sadly on opposite coasts. They’d communicated every day until one day she’d just quit responding to his texts.
He figured he would reconnect with her when he came home for summer break. But he hadn’t come home that summer. He’d gotten an internship with the highly prestigious computer lab at MIT and stayed in Cambridge. He’d been hurt and sorry that she hadn’t returned his texts but after a month of no answers he figured she’d moved on and let it go. He’d been deep into his meetings with the Billionaire Breakfast Club and shooting toward his goal of making his first million.
But he’d never forgotten her.
Pete was still considering bolting when a presence behind him prickled his awareness. He turned, saw a gorgeous woman in trendy black clothes with curves that couldn’t be contained by the short skirt and modest sweater. He glanced at her round face and silky brown hair with blond highlights and electric-blue sparkly painted fingernails.
The only thing that gave away Britt’s identity was the perpetual scowl on her face.
He stepped closer to her, an odd thundering in his chest. Grown-up Britt was a knockout. Not in the traditional suburban-girl sense but she exuded confidence. Sexuality oozed from her fire-engine red lips. Sexual awareness plunged through him unexpectedly.
Friends. They’d been friends. But his body clearly had switched from off to on like in Boolean Algebra, and the sudden hit of attraction took him off guard.
“Britt?” Her name came out more like a question than a hello.
“Hey.” Her gravelly voice was the same. The husky alto she’d been teased about in high school was now more of a sensual rub along his nerve endings.
He took another step toward her while people flowed around them to get to the check-in table. Looking at her, he wondered why he hadn’t tried harder to connect with her after she ghosted him. All those feelings of affection rolled over him. She’d been the only person who had made high school bearable. She’d called him on his shit and still managed to be his cheerleader.
“You look good.”
“Yeah, you too.” She rubbed her toe on the floor.
“Peter!” The high-pitched squeal came from his right, interrupting the awkward moment.
A blonde whirlwind launched at him and fortunately he had the presence of mind to catch the woman before she knocked them both down.
He grunted at her weight but held his ground as she squeezed him tightly.
“Oh. Em. Gee,” she gushed. “It’s so good to see you.”
But his gaze was still on the scowling woman about five feet away. Pete extricated carefully from the blonde’s clinging arms and pushed up his nonexistent glasses.
The blonde tugged on his jacket. “Aren’t you going to say hello?”
She finally stopped moving long enough for him to see who was jabbering away at him. “Oh, uh, hello.”
Could he sound less confident?
His stupid crush from high school. He would have come in his pants if she’d done more than smile at him in high school. “Yes, uh, nice to see you.”
He started to turn around to look for Britt again.
“You look fantastic.” Caroline ran her hand over his biceps, pulling his attention back to her. “I was so hoping that I’d see you first.” She completely ignored the fact that he’d been talking to Britt.
Caroline’s tone and body language were far too intimate for someone he hadn’t seen in ten years. And far too friendly based on the fact that she’d barely spoken to him in high school.
He knew her type. The woman who wouldn’t have looked twice at him back when he was poor, but now that he had money…she wore billionaire goggles. It was tiresome and frustrating, and most of the time he ignored women like her. But he’d made a commitment to her as head of the reunion committee, so he sucked it up.
He gathered his composure, thought about the lessons from his BBC pals, and pulled on the mask that had served him well when he’d been presenting P & L statements and pitching venture capitalist firms for his first start-up. “It’s been a while.”
“I can’t wait to catch up!” She was just as perky as she’d been in high school, but parts of her face were weirdly not moving.
“Excuse me a moment.” He turned to speak to Britt, but she was gone.
“Come on.” Caroline tugged him into the room. Ten years ago he would have given up his dragon in World of Warcraft to have the cheerleader notice him.
He could admit that she was certainly giving his ego a boost he didn’t realize he needed. So he let the blonde woman pull him away. He’d find Britt after he got this award shit out of the way.
The next few hours were a blur.
People fawned all over him. In this crowd, nothing spoke more than money. He’d grown up in an upper-middle-class neighborhood with a few people who were considered rich. Most of the popular crowd had luxury cars and lived in the fancy gated community with security guards to let in the day workers and keep out everyone else.
Once upon a time, he believed that was the pinnacle. Now he knew better.
The people here could only imagine the kind of money he had earned.
He’d thought there would be more satisfaction in having made it. He’d hit billionaire status and yeah, it didn’t suck, but his life had been…lacking. In theory he had gotten everything he’d worked for during the past ten years and it had been nice to be the center of attention for about ten seconds, but he was over it.
He and Britt had lamented their lack of capital when they’d hung out. He missed her dry wit and “don’t give a damn” attitude. She’d been the one bright light in four years of high- intensity focus.
They’d met at programming camp the summer between eighth grade and freshman year. They’d competed against each other and ended up in a literal tie.
It was the first time he’d lost a competition. And it hadn’t happened since.
They’d become fast friends and stayed close…until she stopped texting him.
And instead of going down memory lane in his head, he should just go to Britt’s house and see her.
He’d made a circuit of the entire space, hitting the food room, the dance floor, and even checking out the mostly deserted—except for the DJ—second floor. He was heading toward one of the side staircases when Caroline came out of nowhere and grabbed his arm. “You aren’t leaving so soon!”
He pushed up his nonexistent glasses. He’d had LASIK surgery a few years ago but still couldn’t break the habit when he was tired or nervous. “I was going to take off.”
She hadn’t let go of his arm. Not wanting to be rude, he let her lead him into a darkened alcove. The kind that the chaperones had patrolled when they’d been eighteen. But now it was empty.
She ran her palms up his chest and rested her hands on his shoulders. “I was hoping we could get a little alone time.”
Was she implying….?
He hadn’t had sex in a while. Too busy. Too tired of women interested in him only for his money. Even Caroline was the same. She hadn’t looked twice at him in high school but now she was climbing him like a tree.
She pressed her mouth against his, rubbing her breasts against him.
And he let her. Because yeah, this was his high school senior ball fantasy come to life.
They had sex in the alcove. Pete had condoms in his pocket because he never traveled anywhere without them. He double gloved and let things happen, oddly disassociated from the experience.
His heart was pounding as he fulfilled one of his teenaged dreams: banging the cheerleader. But when it was over, he just felt empty.
“You want to take this back to my house?” She ran a finger along his lapel. She was weirdly not very disheveled. She had come, he was pretty sure.
At least he’d worked at it.
But looking at her now, he couldn’t confirm or deny.
“Uh, I can’t.” He was practically stammering, reverting back to his awkward teenaged self. “I have to head back to Boston tonight. I almost didn’t attend because I found out I have a morning meeting. I’ve got a redeye in an hour.” He rambled on, holding up his phone and feeling like a dick since he was about to bang and bolt.
“Okay.” Now it was awkward. “We’ll catch up again when you’re back in town?”
“Uh, sure.” Pete had been on the receiving end of a few aggressive ploys by eager women. Those he’d managed to sidestep but he also hadn’t slept with them. “I’m not here much. I spend most of my time on the East Coast now.”
“I’m sure we can find a way to keep in touch.”
He couldn’t wait to get on a plane and forget about tonight.
Having sex with Caroline didn’t fulfill him. He didn’t feel any shame, but the entire experience left him dissatisfied.
What he really wished for was another chance to talk to Britt. But she had disappeared.
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