One mystical spell later, Alessandra appears on Cat’s Beverly Hills doorstep five hundred years in the future. Surrounded by confusing gadgets, scary transportation, and scandalous clothing, Less is hesitant to live the life of a twenty-first century teen…until she meets the infuriating—and infuriatingly handsome—surfer Austin Michaels. Austin challenges everything she believes in…and introduces her to a world filled with possibility.
With the clock ticking, Less knows she must live every moment of her modern life while she still can. But how will she return to the drab life of her past when the future is what holds everything she’s come to love?
Without stopping or even slowing his stride, he grabs a map from a vendor and flips it open. “So Lethal Xperience is at the back of the park. We’ll hit that first and then make our way up to the front.”
He seems unaware that the length of his legs far exceeds my own. As I frantically attempt to match his stride, I must pant or wheeze because he finally looks down at me, no doubt pink-faced and wide-eyed both from the sensory overload surrounding us and my huffing at a near jog to stay beside him. He grins. “Try to keep up, Short Stuff.”
I grit my teeth with determination and somehow keep myself from muttering, Yes, Master. But the thought still makes me smile. Cat must be rubbing off.
We pass a circular ride filled with fake horses going up and down. Giggling and drooling children clap their adorable hands from their belted saddles while a spirited tune blares overhead. Just past that is a miniature roller coaster made to look like a giant, happy centipede. The child in the front seat waves to his mother as the cart dips, and his squeal of joy tails behind him. It’s too bad that not all roller coasters can be five feet tall.
Then I get a wicked idea.
Austin believes I am a child, naive and boring, and, it would seem, without any humor. This second challenge is supposed to be about fun, and nothing—not even the lead role in a prestigious play with a crowd of a thousand—will give me more joy than turning the tables on him, even if only for a moment.
Looking back at the children’s ride, I grab Austin’s elbow and say innocently, “Is this not the roller coaster you are looking for?”
He stops rather abruptly and peers at me through squinted eyes. “You know, it’s like you look normal…” He trails off and shakes his head. He points a long tan finger at the centipede ride and in a tone dripping with condescension explains, “Less, Arthropod Picnic is a kiddie ride. It’s made for pint-size ankle-biters ages three and under.”
I try my best to look disappointed. I do everything I can to contain my mounting delight. But after no more than a few brief moments, I let forth a victorious giggle.
Realization dawns on his face. “You think you’re funny, huh?”
When I nod, he chuckles. He leans back on his heels and lets his gaze travel over my body. Humor dissipates as my skin prickles to life. On Austin’s slow ascent back up, he pauses to look me in the eye and an emotion crosses his face. It’s so fleeting—gone and there in an instant—that I cannot catch it.
“So, you think you’re ready to play at the big girl table now.” The left side of his mouth kicks up in a grin. “We’ll just have to see about that.”
The apparent taunt and Austin’s added wink spur me on.
This is my chance to prove to him that I’m not the timid girl I once was. To prove to myself that I’m no longer the child of my youth but a woman ready for the future.
I sashay toward a person dressed as a shiny nugget of gold posing for pictures with children, feeling Austin watching me, his gaze on my every step like a physical touch. My legs feel wobbly under my skirt, but an energizing spark ignites in my blood. I glance over my shoulder, confirming I have his complete attention, and then with an outward shrug (and an inner dance), I reply with every ounce of confidence I can muster, “Yes. We will.”
Austin’s smile widens. The sounds and patrons of the park fade away, and it is as if we are the only two around. I don’t know what is happening…I scarcely even recognize myself in this moment. Being with Austin does that. It turns me into someone else.
And I like who I become.
I watch his slow saunter, my body poised with tension. I don’t know what is going to happen next, but I wouldn’t trade the delicious expectation for anything. Austin doesn’t stop until he is right in front of me, close enough that I have to look up to meet his demanding blue gaze, and so close that warmth fans across my face as he says in a low voice, “Careful, girl. You’re playing with fire.”
“I’ve been careful my whole life,” I tell him, surprising myself with the resentment ringing in my tone. But it’s the truth. “And you know, I think it’s about time for me to be a little…” I bite the corner of my bottom lip, searching for exactly the right word to describe the emotions and thoughts that have surfaced the last few days. When I find it, I smile and wiggle my eyebrows suggestively “Wild.”
Austin sucks in a breath. He searches my eyes and I boldly stare back, praying that he cannot see my knees shaking. Then, obviously concluding that I meant every word, he flashes his devilish grin. “I can work with that.”
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