THEY SAID SHE WAS GOING TO BE MY RUIN...
THEN LET HER RUIN ME.
He had everything—wealth, adoration, a brilliant future. Until one chance encounter changed everything.
The moment Caleb Lockhart spotted the mysterious woman in her siren red dress, he couldn’t tear his eyes away.
For the first time in his life, he wanted something. Something he knew he could never have.
The unforgettable stranger he dubs RED.
Chasing Red Duology:
Chasing Red (Book 1)
Always Red (Book 2)
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Caleb turned, his eyes widening in surprise. I looked at him directly, defiantly, as I unbuttoned my jeans and wiggled out of them. I was wearing my best underwear—a matching lacy red bra and panties. They weren’t exactly new, but they still looked damn sexy. The next thing I knew, I was climbing on top of the railing, and seconds later, I was up in the air.
“Wait!” I heard him call out.
But he was too late.
God help me, I’m going to die, I thought darkly as I felt the cold wind slap my face. While I was suspended in the air, the moment felt endless. I felt horror and shock when my body hit the freezing water. Gravity pulled me down, down, down… Where the hell is the bottom?
Panicking, I fought my way up. When I reached the surface, I gulped in blessed sweet air.
I did it! I freaking did it!
All of a sudden, I felt hands grip my shoulders, shaking me.
“Are you crazy?”
Kicking my legs to stay afloat, I blinked the water out of my eyes and saw Caleb’s face wild with incredulity.
“Yes!” I shouted.
I felt euphoric, exhilarated. My chest felt full, like it was about to burst.
“Again!” I yelled.
He laughed, the kind of laugh that was carefree and reckless, and I felt…happy. It took me a moment to recognize the feeling. It had been so long since I’d felt it.
In one night, this boy had brought me out of the shadows and into the bright light.
Dangerous. He was dangerous.
“Does anything hurt?” he asked. He stroked my arms with his palms, up and down, up and down, gently, slowly, until tingles zipped down my arms. They shot straight to my stomach, bursting into butterflies. It was the way he looked at me, I realized. The way he held me. Caught in the moment, I could only shake my head.
“What a wild girl you are, Red.”
Water trickled down his forehead, sliding down his nose to his top lip. His tongue slipped out to taste it. “Show me more.”
I shivered, but surely only because I was getting cold.
I could admit to myself that Caleb excited me. He was like a trip to the jungle: mysterious, adventurous, and dangerous…uncharted territory. If I wasn’t careful, I could get lost and never find my way out again.
We climbed up to the bridge for another round, and another, and another until I lost count of how many times Caleb and I jumped off. He never left my side.
He was doing somersaults and other crazy moves that had my heart leaping in my chest. When I resurfaced one last time, I expected him to swim beside me, but he was nowhere in sight. I went down again, opening my eyes underwater to search for him, but it was too dark.
Tiny prickles of fear climbed up my spine. I went under again, searching.
The scream was trapped in my throat as I felt something grab my waist and pull me further under. I twisted around and found Caleb laughing, water bubbles escaping his mouth. My eyes narrowed as he swam away.
Oh, it’s on! I surfaced, then raced after him, intending to dunk him, but instead of swimming away, he turned around. I squeaked, swimming away from him as fast as I could, but he was faster. I felt his hand grab for me under the water, but instead of my leg, his fingers grasped the fabric of my panties, then moved up as he cupped my hips with both palms and dragged me underwater before he swam away. I was about to chase after him again when I felt the band on my panties snap apart. What the hell? My eyes widened in shock as I felt the band break and the material float away from my hips.
My hands automatically covered my front and back, trying to pull the pieces of the panties back in place. The fabric was thin lace and not exactly brand new. It has just torn apart when Caleb grabbed it. Now I was running out of air and had to resurface.
Oh God, oh God, oh God.
I broke the surface and spotted Caleb ten feet away. If he pulled me underwater again, he would see…
My alarmed tone caught his attention. He paused, his eyes scanning around me. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
I tightened my grip on the torn garment, treading water as he swam closer.
Rubbing the water from his eyes, he studied my face with concern. “Red?”
I bit my lip. “Could you…could you get my jeans?”
He frowned. “Okay?”
He looked at me like I had sprung another head. “Right now?”
“Right now,” I said through gritted teeth.
“Please.” My face burned. “Just get them.”
He narrowed his eyes. “What are you not telling me?”
I wanted to scream with frustration. Why couldn’t he just get them?
“I’m not moving until you tell me why,” he insisted.
I groaned, pressing the heel of my hand to my forehead—but when I felt the material floating away again, I quickly held it down.
He wasn’t going to budge. I had to tell him now…
His eyes automatically shot down to the water.
“Don’t look!” I yelled.
A wolfish smile spread on his lips, a twinkle in his green eyes. “What about your panties?” he drawled.
I cleared my throat. “The band tore apart.”
“The band holding it all together, it…” I closed my eyes, breathing for a moment before opening them again.
“Tore apart?” he provided.
I wondered what he would say if he knew he’d caused the band to break. He would never stop teasing me.
“Maybe you need help buying…panties next time. From an expert.” He winked.
I glared at him.
“Did you tear them apart…on purpose?” he prodded.
I clenched my teeth. He was not going to let it go.
“You did it, you big jerk! When you dragged me down earlier…”
His grin reminded me of the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland. I glared at him, daring him to say something.
“Just. Get. My. Jeans,” I grated out.
His eyes were still gleaming, which made me nervous. What was he thinking?
“If I get them,” he said casually, as if he were talking about the weather, “what do I get for it?”
He chuckled, low and sexy. He reached for a lock of my hair, but I jerked back, moving away from him, kicking underwater while holding my fragmented panties. He only gave me a knowing grin and leaned into a backstroke, leisurely floating around me, circling me, like a shark sniffing prey. “I think you heard me.”
“Caleb,” I warned, but suddenly I was feeling giddy.
“So what will it be?”
“If you don’t get my jeans right now, I will… I will…” I bit my lip, trying to think of a clever threat. But it was impossible to use my brain cells when I was almost naked, and Caleb Lockhart was looking at me like he wanted to eat me in one bite. “Poison your orange juice!” I finished lamely.
He laughed. I froze in horror as his hands drifted under the water.
“What the hell are you doing?”
“You’re going to owe me for this one, Red.” His hands resurfaced, and he handed me his dripping boxers.
“Are you freaking kidding me? You’re not going up there naked, are you?”
He laughed harder.
“It’s not your lucky night, Red. I wore boxers and briefs today. You know, for support.” He winked. “Usually it’s just boxers. That’s for future reference.”
I exhaled loudly as I grabbed the boxers from him and tried tugging them on, but I discovered it wasn’t easy to put on clothing underwater. Caleb stared at me with a foolish grin, enjoying the show.
I felt so giddy. All the things that I’d done tonight, what I had let myself be tonight… I’d never done anything so reckless. I’d never had so much fun in my entire life.
“Hungry?” he asked.
I nodded as we both got out of the water. He playfully pulled a lock of my hair as we climbed up to the bridge again. He was just wearing briefs, but he walked with confidence, comfortable in his own skin. I gulped as I caught sight of his thick, muscled legs.
“They’re grilling hamburgers on the other side of the bridge. Wanna get some?”
I nodded again.
He grinned. “Great. Give me a minute, will you?”
He jogged away, and when he came back, he handed me his dress shirt. I was going to ask why he didn’t just grab my clothes, but the way he looked at me made me close my mouth.
“Don’t want you getting cold,” he murmured, his voice rough as he watched me put on his dress shirt.
I blushed, feeling self-conscious.
“It needs something,” he whispered.
My breath caught as he stepped closer, his eyes locked on mine. Slowly, his hand reached for the collar around my neck, and when his finger brushed my skin, I shivered.
“I need to button this,” he explained softly.
He didn’t take his gaze off mine as he held the sides of his shirt together and leisurely closed the top button.
“And this.” He continued to speak softly, reaching for the second button.
My head swam. What the hell was he doing to me? I bit my lip and stepped back.
“I can do it,” I breathed.
His smile was wolfish. “Sure, Red.”
After I’d finished buttoning the shirt, Caleb pulled me to the barbecue site, refusing to let me change into my jeans.
I didn’t mind a crowd, but I’d rather not socialize unless I had to. Trouble came when I mixed with people, and I didn’t need trouble in my life, especially now.
He got me a hamburger, and I ate it quietly while we mingled with everyone—, while he mingled. Everyone flocked around him. I realized it wasn’t just his perfect looks or his popularity that made people want to be around him—it was his charisma. He was so…genuine.
Caleb was like the sun. He was so warm, so big and bright that you couldn’t help but come closer. But what would happen if I got too close?
“Caleb,” a female voice purred.
I turned to see the blond girl who’d reminded me of an alien sashay toward Caleb.
Was that what they named them on their planet nowadays? The familiar way Caleb smiled at her made my stomach roil. It was obvious they had slept together.
So what? Caleb was a womanizer. It shouldn’t surprise me. But my heart suddenly felt heavy, and I wanted to go home. I climbed back up to the bridge to look for my clothes, but I couldn’t find them anywhere, so I went to where Caleb had parked his motorcycle. I’d just wait for him there until he was ready to leave.
A number of vehicles were parked nearby, and people were milling around them. Across from me was a group of college guys leaning against a blue truck. They laughed among themselves, but one of them caught my attention.
He didn’t join in their laughter, strumming a song on his guitar instead. His head was bowed low, caught in the music. Then he looked up, his head turning in my direction.
It was too dark to see his face clearly, but I could tell he was looking at me. Something about him compelled me to look back. He tilted his head to the side, as if waiting for me to say something. I turned my eyes away.
I crossed my arms, feeling a little cold and wishing Caleb would finish up.
“Looks like you need this,” a raspy masculine voice said from behind me.
I turned around and blinked at the heart-stopping face. It was the guy with the guitar. His features were sharp and beautiful, and his smile was crooked as he casually reached for my hand, turning it palm up and placing a blue towel there.
Someone shouted, and he looked over his shoulder. He shouted back before facing me again. “I’ll see you around, angel face,” he said. Then he jogged back to his friends, his guitar slung behind his shoulder.
That was how Caleb found me. He frowned as he turned to look at the guy who had given me the towel. When he turned to face me, his eyes were cold.
“Cover up, will you?” he muttered.
“What the hell is wrong with you?”
He shrugged, grabbing the towel from my hands and handing me my clothes. I put them on silently. Caleb walked around me, and I had a feeling he was blocking the guys from looking at me while I got dressed.
“Let’s go,” he said bluntly.
He swung onto his bike, looking dangerous. He wasn’t smiling anymore. My good mood evaporated.
I climbed on the bike behind him, awkwardly wrapping my arms around him. He tensed when I touched him, and I quickly pulled away, stung by his reaction.
He stopped me, holding both my arms and wrapping them around his torso. When I felt the heat from his back, I inhaled sharply. I fought the urge to get as far away from him as possible.
The ride was quiet this time. When we got back to his building and rode the elevator together, it was awkwardly quiet. I could feel him thinking. What if he changed his mind and wanted to kick me out now? I didn’t care. I’d leave in a heartbeat. I would live on the streets if need be, or in a shelter. Anywhere.
He entered the code to his apartment. When the alarm beeped green, he opened the door for me, but I didn’t step inside. Throwing a glance at the elevator, I debated whether I should make a run for it.
My breath caught at the look in his eyes. The green surrounding his pupils had deepened, darkened. He stood close enough for me to touch, but he was the one who reached out and tucked a strand of my hair behind my ear.
“Come inside,” he whispered. “Please.”
Like a snake mesmerized by a charmer, I stepped inside, watching as Caleb closed the door behind him.
I could feel his eyes on me, hear his soft breathing—and the loud beating of my heart. When I lifted my eyes to his, I gasped at the intensity I saw there.
“Thank you,” he whispered.
“For what?” I whispered back.
A soft, secret smile appeared on his lips. “For showing me something different tonight.”
With that, he walked away.