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Instead of You
Author:Anie Michaels

I should have felt scandalized when his tongue swept across my lips, but I didn’t. I didn’t feel anything except ready for whatever came next. Having Hayes’s tongue gliding through my mouth, his hand gripping my hair, his body seemingly trying to meld with mine, it was both the best and worst thing to happen to me.

When he finally pulled away, because Lord knows it wasn’t going to be me, I stumbled a bit, trying to acclimate myself to being so solitary again. With only minutes of being connected to Hayes, going back to standing on my own was more difficult than it should have been.

He stood just a couple feet away from me, our breaths both panting out, creating the slightest bit of fog.

“I’m a shitty person for taking that first from you and Cory, but I’ll be damned if I say I haven’t wanted to kiss you for the longest time.”

What?

“Hayes,” I said, cringing at the wobble in my voice, too aware of the thumping in my heart and other parts of my body that were really unaccustomed to such throbbing. “What was that?” My fingers came to my lips, and even though I knew it made me look like an idiot, I couldn’t help but touch the part of my body that had been so intimately connected to his.

He shook his head as a grin came over his mouth. But then he covered it up with his hand and moved his gaze to his shoes. When his eyes met mine again, the smile was gone. “That was just me, taking a risk, and being an asshole.”

Before I could even digest the words, he spun around and walked back toward the ballroom. Left standing in the chilly evening all alone with my fingertips still running over the skin left buzzing by his kiss, I was confused as ever.

What in the world?

Hayes had just given me my very first kiss. Stolen it, really. And seemed pleased to do so. And he’d wanted to do it for the longest time? How long? I was sixteen, he was twenty. And his chest was so firm.

I closed my eyes and shook my head at the thoughts running loose in my mind. He’d turned around and walked away, but I was still standing in the cold, my fingers pressed against my lips, somehow trying to hold on to the way it felt to be kissed by him. By Hayes. Oh, God.

“Kenzie?” Cory’s voice snapped my head back up and my hand away from my lips. “What are you doing out here? Are you all right?”

It scared me how easily the lie slipped from my mouth. “The music was so loud, I was starting to get a headache.”

“Do you want me to bring you some water? I could ask my mom if she has any Tylenol.”

“No, I think I’ll be okay.” I stared at him, silently hoping he’d go back into his party where all our friends would be glad to dance with him, to hang out with him, to occupy him while I used what little brainpower I had left to dissect what had happened between Hayes and me. Instead, he stepped closer.

“I was hoping you would dance with me.”

“You know I don’t dance.”

He stopped inches from me, just as his brother had not five minutes before. His hands were in the pockets of his suit pants, and he bent at the knee slightly to look me in the eye. “Come on, Kenzie. It’s my birthday,” he pleaded, batting his too-long eyelashes at me. “Dance with me.” His last words were spoken softly, as if he were embarrassed to be asking me at all. But it was his birthday, and I had technically come to his party with him—I owed him at least a dance.

“Okay,” I replied, my voice matching his in softness.

He took another tentative step toward me, his eyes never leaving mine, then pulled his hands from his pockets. One reached out and landed on the curve of my waist, the other he held up, waiting for me to place my palm in his.

Touching wasn’t new for us, and dancing wasn’t either. But dancing in the dark, alone, with only the distant sound of music in the background was uncharted territory. This was something that, had you asked anyone, was destined to happen. We were both finally sixteen years old: let the relationship commence. I knew it was coming, yet the only feeling I had about it was trepidation.

Could Cory tell I’d just kissed his brother? Could he somehow smell Hayes on me? Were my lips as swollen and sensitive as they felt? Was my waist hot where his hands had been?

I could only hope all the answers were no, pray that Cory had no idea his brother had totally and completely obliterated me with just one kiss.

“Can you believe we finally made it?” Cory asked as we swayed in tiny circles.

“Made it?”

“To sixteen. We finally made it.”

“Oh, yeah. Suddenly I feel like the years flew by.”

“Really?” he asked, his smile lighting up his boyish face. “The last two years have been torture for me, dragging on and on.” His hands slid farther around my waist, effectively pulling me a little closer as his hand came to rest in the small of my back. “But now we’re here, and we’re both sixteen. All I want, Kenzie, is for us to finally be together.”