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Abby, a plastic cup of wine in her hand and her focus on the stairs at the other side of the room, pushed and swayed through the noisy crowd of revelers. Someone had wound bright Christmas lights up and around the bannisters in a haphazard and cheerful display. She wondered idly if they were left over from Christmas, never taken down and tucked away in a dusty box in the attic, or had they been selected for decoration to brighten this evening’s party?
It was already the end of January and the shops and florists had been on the Valentine’s Day bandwagon since the first week of the month. Surely hearts and flowers would’ve been a better choice than Christmas lights for this function on the eve of the most romantic month of the year? Abby made it to the stairs, her apologies and excuse-me’s hanging in the air behind her, and put her hand on the stair rail. From here she could see that several pieces of cheap-looking plastic holly were intertwined with the Christmas lights, the fake snow which decorated the leaves now appearing crusty and yellow. The lights were clearly leftovers from the festive season. Romance was dead. Not that she needed reminding of that fact, of course.
She turned with a smile to see her friend Missy weaving towards her, her own cup of wine held high above her head and the too-full liquid slopping in all directions. “Hey, Abby. Where are you going?”
“Bathroom.” Abby looked past Missy and into the boisterous, jostling crowd which filled the room behind them. “Are you here with Carrie and Jayna?”
“Yeah. We’ve just arrived.” Missy hiccupped loudly and covered her hand with her mouth. “Whoops.”
Abby laughed. “I’m guessing you’ve been somewhere else before you ended up here?’
“Just a few drinks downtown.” Missy hiccupped again and turned away. “We’re in the next room. Come and see us when you’ve finished upstairs.”
Abby shoved past the couple who were kissing on the stairs, and who made no attempt to get out of the way, and stumbled onto the landing, aware that she’d probably had a little too much to drink herself. She’d been here once before for some other riotous and loud party occasion though she’d never met the home owner. Her invites to these parties had always come to her through friends rather than the host himself. She tapped on the bathroom door, wrinkling her nose in distaste at the long stream of toilet paper wrapped around the door handle which some wag had obviously decided to put there as a joke.
“Wait.” A male voice came from the other side of the door, abrupt and preoccupied.
Abby put her nose closer to the door and sniffed cautiously. Weed? She banged again, harder this time. “Are you smoking in there? Don’t be an ass. Go outside if you want to smoke. People need to use the bathroom.”
The door was suddenly wrenched open and Abby nearly toppled over, cursing under her breath as she grabbed for the door frame. She glared at the man who was now smirking down at her, casually dressed in a white t-shirt and jeans in the way that some men had of pulling off a simple outfit to perfection. Michael Brown. One of the most childish and un-endearing men she’d ever had the misfortune to cross paths with. She flapped her hand to dispel the distinctly scented smoke which was now wafting out the door. “Did you have to do that in there?”
“Yeah.” He looked her up and down, dragging his eyes across her body. “Abby, isn’t it? Abby Jefferies?”
“You know who I am,” she said stiffly. She pushed past him. “Excuse me.” She shoved at the door in an attempt to close it behind her but it wouldn’t budge. “Could you move your foot, Michael?”
His face, handsome if it wasn’t for the fact that he was such an idiot, was suddenly inches from her own and his blue eyes were sparkling with amusement as they met hers. “Are you going to make me?”
“Get lost, Michael.” She put her back against the door and pushed, hard.
“Oooh, she’s a fiery one. Nice.” The door shut with a click on Michael’s words and Abby quickly flipped the lock across. Wrinkling her nose at the smoke which hung in the air, she opened the window and set her drink down on the vanity top. Michael rapped once, twice on the closed door before she heard his footsteps walking away. She rolled her eyes at her own reflection. How was it that some men just never seemed to grow up?
A pair of grey, dark-lashed eyes stared back at her as she asked herself the question, grey eyes set in a face which was prone to freckles and topped with a head of long, unruly brown curls. She opened her purse and pulled out her favorite shade of lipstick, Summer in Miami, and applied a liberal coat.
“Hey.” Someone else was now banging on the door. “Will you be long in there?”
“Just a minute.” Abby quickly finished her business and washed her hands. She left the bathroom, flipping a quick smile towards the girl waiting impatiently outside, and carried her drink back down the stairs. The lovers were still there, their faces locked together, but someone had now dragged the Christmas lights from the bannisters and draped them across the pair. Shaking her head, Abby ducked under the string of lights and stepped back down onto the stained carpet below.
She looked up into the devilishly smiling eyes of Ryan McCarthy and a rush of color flooded her cheeks. She hadn’t expected him to be here tonight. Dubious house parties weren’t generally his thing; he’d told her so himself. “Hi.” She didn’t want to meet those deep brown eyes but she couldn’t look away from them either. She suddenly understood why tiny animals could be mesmerized by the eyes of a swaying cobra.