Kissing Games EXCERPT

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For a girl who shares her name with a princess (Aurora from Sleep ing Beauty), my present circumstances were fathoms away from a fairy tale. My kissing skills had left both parties maimed—one case worthy of the emergency room.

Our first kiss as a couple, and my first-ever kiss, had been a melding of everything I’d heard kisses could be, all the glorious cli- chés in action—weak knees, my heart a field of fluttering butter- flies, life in Technicolor. Worth the wait.

With a start like that, I’d expected the second kiss to be as good.

Or at least not to end in calamity.

Four hours ago I’d had no idea I’d be spending half of my Thurs- day night in the local hospital’s emergency department, watching the on-call physician stitching Hayden Paris’s formerly perfect lower lip.

four hours earlier . . .

 I stood at my bathroom mirror, staring at my lips. I’d just applied red lipstick, taking a good five minutes to make sure that the edges were perfect. Now I was having second thoughts.

Normally I wasn’t one to spend lengthy amounts of time pout- ing at my own reflection, but in the fifteen minutes before Hayden was due to arrive I was fixated on my own mouth.

It had started with the intention of making sure I had fresh breath. Three brushings and a lengthy flossing session later, I’d pinched the superstrong dental clinic–issued mouthwash used by my dad (otherwise known as the NAD—New Age dad), on the ba- sis that it would work better than my Listerine. Figuring that if I used any more mouthwash I’d give myself acid reflux, I’d finally stashed a mini breath spray in the pocket of my skirt so I could do a last quick spritz after Hayden and I had finished dinner. Literally sharing breath with someone was nerve-racking.

I was now in a conundrum over lipstick. I’d automatically reached for the red, as numerous studies have proved that red lips are considered the most sensual, due to the way that lipstick mim- ics the way our lips flush when attracted to another person. But just as I’d finished applying the lipstick, I started worrying that it wasn’t the best choice. It would inevitably kiss off, wouldn’t it? What if I pulled away from the (hopefully) amazing kiss and Hayden was left smeared with red lipstick? Gloss wasn’t an option, either—I’d over- heard way too many guys complaining about how they hated goopy lips.

I blotted the lipstick, hoping to achieve a nice, subtle stain, like I’d been sitting in a field eating raspberries or something. Revlon had had that famous Cherries in the Snow ad campaign in 1953, so bring on Raspberries in a Field. I was obviously getting jittery if I was planning 1950s-esque cosmetic campaigns.

I hadn’t talked about my anxiety with my best friends, Cassie, Jelena, Lindsay, and Sara. They were looking to me to be their dating guru—and hopefully the whole of Jefferson High would be, too, once I implemented my Find a Prince/Princess™ program. This is a program I designed to help guys and girls navigate the minefield that is the high school dating scene. As well as using the program to help Cassie find love with Scott (aka the ubercute new guy) and to help Lindsay win her ex-boyfriend Tyler back, I had also been using the program to weigh my own romantic prospects, with the aim of identifying my “prince.”

A prince:

  • has Principl He stands up for what he knows to be right, instead of going along with the crowd.
  • Recognizes your worth. He understands how special you are and treats you with respect and kindne
  • possesses Integrity. He’s genuine with his feelings and won’t mislead you for underhanded or selfish purpo
  • Never doubts you’re the only one for him.
  • is Cons He stands by you through the sunshine and the shadows, the good and the bad.
  • possesses Enduran He is willing to overcome considerable obstacles to win your affection.

I know the “prince” thing sounds cringeworthy, like it’s some- thing from another century. But the program isn’t about glass slip- pers or lying around until a prince shows up. It’s about valuing yourself and saying no to guys with dishonest intentions or luke- warm feelings. Guys who lie or are self-involved or only looking for an ego boost. Guys who play around with our feelings like it’s a form of sport.

What the program is really about is knowing what you are wor- thy of and accepting nothing less.

I get that some people might see this as idealistic. But if I listened to everyone else’s cynicism, I’d never have stuck with the Find a Prince/Princess™ program for the past three years. I’d have given up and settled for a substandard guy. Instead, following my heart had landed me Hayden Paris, Prince Extraordinaire. After years of misunderstandings and miscommunication, Hayden and I had finally come together as a couple three days ago, after he’d revealed himself to be my secret admirer. I’d realized that he was not the bane of my life but actually the boy of my dreams. And after six- teen years and six months of not settling, I’d finally had that magi- cal first kiss I’d been waiting for.

I’d once read that the term “French kiss” was derived from “soul kiss,” because of an ancient belief that the sharing of breath was, in essence, the sharing of souls. It was a romantic notion, yet I had to admit, when I’d let Hayden touch his lips to mine the other night, I’d felt as if parts of me, tiny molecules at a time, had come close to dissolving in the intense closeness.

So when it came to tonight, I wanted the follow-up kiss to be just as legendary. I wanted utter elation, a moment of tenderness in which my heart would tremble inside my chest at how exquisitely beautiful it was to be so close to Hayden.

I shivered at the thought, and the tiny hairs on my arms stood up. Catching sight of my watch, I realized there was only about five minutes until Hayden was due to arrive. I had to turn my mind to practicalities.

My heart pounding, I ran downstairs to do a last-minute check of the living room. Thankfully, Dad had headed out to an event at the local meditation center, so I’d had some time this evening to prep the room for maximum ambience. Beyond emotional connection, romance was a sensory experience, so I’d aimed for soft light and scent. I placed oversize, velvety cushions on either side of the cof- fee table to encourage a more relaxed feel than the two of us perched at a distance from each other on my long couch, and then I set three large scented candles atop the coffee table.

After lighting the candles, I dimmed the light, just enough to heighten the mood but not so dramatically that I’d have difficulty making out Hayden’s features.

Then I turned them up again a fraction of an inch. Yes, I was trying to create a sense of intimacy, but what if Hayden thought I was being overly forward? It was only our first date, and here I was getting out the candles!

Oh god, could I even pull this off? Yes, I’d readied the room, but was I ready? Could I take this second kiss to the dizzying heights required?

What if our heart-stopping first kiss had set a precedent in Hayden’s mind that I couldn’t equal the second time around? What if I instigated a kiss and it fell flat? What if Hayden was disappointed? My basic plan was to move in close at some point during the night, ensuring that my intimate intentions were obvious to Hayden. But I had major timing trepidation. How would I know the opportune moment to get up close and personal?

For example, what if I moved in and he was tired or cranky or lip-fatigued from an afternoon arguing in the debate team? I pictured myself getting shot down midmove in the candlelight. Hmm . . . was rejection better or worse in low lighting? The lack of light would hide my extreme embarrassment, but I’d also be sitting there in a highly sensuous atmosphere. Hopefully not too sensuous. My hand went to the dimmer switch again.

Right. I was calling Cassie.

She picked up right away. “Hey, aren’t you on your date?” “About to be. As in, Hayden’s probably heading toward my door right now and I’m doubting I have the courage to open it, let alone make a lunge for his lips later. Cass, what if I get the timing wrong and I’m left cast off in the candlelight?”

“Aurora, you know he’s crazy about you. I’m sure he’s planning to kiss you tonight. But if you want to be the one to make the first move, just look for the cues.”

“Cues?”

“Kissing green lights. Physical indications telling you to go straight ahead.”

“I’m a total newbie on the dating highway, Cass. Unless Hayden actually turns green, I’m going to be playing the yes/no game for the next few hours.”

Cassie laughed. “I’m talking things like prolonged eye contact and sitting really close to you, not Hayden turning into a chameleon.”

“Oh god, why can’t he be a chameleon? You know the male ac- tually changes color when he’s in the mood? Just think—if Hayden’s lips burst into stripes of blue and green, I wouldn’t have any hesita- tion!” My voice rose a half octave with nervous tension.

“Aurora, I can hear you getting breathless. You have to breathe. If you don’t breathe while kissing, you’ll pass out. It happened to my cousin!”

What?” I shrieked. “No one warned me about this!” The doorbell rang.

“Argh! Hayden and his nonchameleon lips have arrived!” “Focus on the feelings and you’ll ace it,” Cassie said. “I promise.”

I caught sight of my face in the hallway mirror as I set the phone down and headed for the door. I looked like a rabbit staring up in terror at a farmer with a pitchfork. Fantastic.

I took a deep breath and opened the door. Hayden’s smiling face greeted me. My whole body instantly relaxed.

“Good evening, Princess.” He gave me a hug. “Any chance a wannabe knight bearing wood-fired pizza could cross the thresh- old?”

I smiled as I stepped aside to let him in. “Was it an epic quest?” “It involved much gallantry,” Hayden replied as we headed down the hall. “The guy at the pizza place was actually kind of a fire-breathing dragon. He had serious issues about half-and-half pizzas.”

Hayden started turning right to go into the kitchen.

“Oh!” I touched his shoulder. “I thought we might eat in the living room. It’s cozier.”

My plan of action was to get Hayden comfortable. Get him comfortable and then pounce.

“Sure.” He turned left then stopped at the entrance to the liv- ing room. “We might need a little more light.”

Oh my god—the living room now resembled a dimly lit saloon where busty women of the Wild West were likely to slink by in skimpy corsets or recline languorously on velvet cushions. I must have accidentally hit the dimmer switch in my scramble to get to the front door.

“Sorry, I was, ah, setting the scene.” Had that actually come out? “The scene?” Hayden turned, eyebrows raised, his hand paused on the switch. His eyes were undeniably nervous. He probably thought he was about to be thrown down on the coffee table.

Great. I aim for ambience and wind up scaring my date. “Setting the scene—for history!” I cried. “You know, the Middle Ages, living by candlelight? I was hoping it would help with my es- say. I, um, was working on it while waiting for you.”

My voice was increasingly resembling a chipmunk’s—high- pitched, fast-paced, and bordering on panicky.

“Much as I love your imagination, I think the take-out pizza might destroy the illusion.” Hayden laughed as he turned the dim- mer switch up. “Let’s skip ahead a few centuries so you don’t drip sauce on that gorgeous dress.”

I tried not to feel seriously insulted. Here I was, preparing to ex- ecute a major move, and my date didn’t want to know about it. I flopped down onto one of the velvet cushions, trying not to let out a sigh as Hayden set out the pizza and filled our glasses with Coke. Why was this so easy in movies? I thought of Cleopatra and Eliza- beth Taylor tumbling out of the rolled-up carpet. Caesar had been putty in her hands. I’d tried to set up a scene of seduction and in- stead I’d wound up eating pizza underneath blazing lights.

I looked across at Hayden, who’d picked up a piece of pizza but seemed to be waiting for me. I studied the pizza on the table in front of me. The second I took a bite, my painstakingly applied lipstick would be messed up. Then, as the smell wafted up toward me, I real- ized I had bigger worries—there was garlic on the margherita! No way was breath spray going to cover up that potent passion killer.

I looked up from the pizza and saw that Hayden was watching me with an amused expression.

“Here, my lady, let me choose the perfect piece for thee.” He picked up a slice and put it on the plate in front of me.

His hazel eyes were so warm they were almost golden in the glow of the candles on the coffee table. Eye contact! That was one of Cass’s green lights. Okay, time to up the ante.

My heart had accelerated within mere seconds. I had to push the rest of me to catch up with it before the opportune moment slipped by. I gave Hayden a long gaze and raised an eyebrow in what I hoped was a Cleopatra-esque expression.

He let out a nervous laugh. “Have I got sauce on my face?”

I started in surprise. “What?” Obviously my attempt at Cleopa- tra was more scornful than seductive. “No!”

My hands, still trembling from the extended eye contact, shook harder, and I dropped my pizza slice into my lap.

“You see! This is why we needed the light!” Hayden leaned for- ward, shaking his head in amusement, grabbed the pizza slice, and put it back on the plate with a smile.

He reached over and pressed a napkin into my hand, giving it a squeeze. Houston, we had contact. If I didn’t do this now, I never would.

Hayden went to move his hand away, but I grabbed on to it. Before my fear could kick in, I leaned across the coffee table, meeting Hayden halfway.

“Sorry, blotting the stain will probably make it worse—” he began.

I placed my index finger over his lips, stopping his sentence short. His eyes widened.

Okay, replace finger with lips. With hopefully minty-fresh lips. I leaned farther toward Hayden, closing the distance between  us. The caramel aroma of the candles was intoxicating. I took a steady breath, trying to concentrate on my senses. I could feel my cheeks were flushed, although I couldn’t tell whether that was from the warmth of the candles or the dizzying pulse of blood through my body. The room was in complete silence except for our breathing and the pounding of my heart, which thumped in my ears like the crash of the ocean on the sand when you lay your head down on your towel at the beach.

There were two inches left between our faces. I removed my fin- ger from Hayden’s lips and our foreheads touched. The gentleness of the gesture caused a pulling feeling in my chest.

Last step. Last tiny little step and the plan would be complete.

Focus on the feelings. Cass’s advice floated back to me.

I touched his cheek with the fingers of my right hand. This was Hayden, my Potential Prince, my childhood friend, bane of my life turned boy of my dreams. I felt my lips relax into a smile, a smile that sank down through my skin and seemed to hover over my heart. I was so lucky. This thought tipped me over into the cour- age zone and, almost in a trance, I closed the minute distance left between us.

I pressed my lips to Hayden’s, so lightly that the touch of skin to skin was almost imperceptible. Even the second time around, the sensation was so exquisitely unfamiliar that it was all-encompassing. I was lost to feeling—the exact pressure of Hayden’s lips, his hair brushing against my fingers where they rested on his neck, the smell of his skin—a mix of soap and cologne with green-apple notes.

Hayden put his hand on my waist, pulling me closer and taking the kiss deeper. His breath was hot against mine. My pulse, already at high tempo, hit critical level. I now knew why Cass’s cousin had passed out. The feeling in my chest as we kissed was so intense I almost couldn’t bear it, yet I desperately sought more. I was like the candles, set alight with sensation, all thoughts dissolving in the heat of the moment. The feeling was so realistic that I could almost smell smoke.

I took another deep breath, hoping to dispel the phantom smell by inhaling more of Hayden’s green-apple scent.

Wait a minute. Something was burning. The smell was unmis- takable now, almost sulfuric. What on earth . . . ?

There were about five seconds of illogical agony, in which I won- dered whether the mouthwash had failed me and the smell was coming from my own breath, before I realized what I was actually smelling. My hair was on fire!

The thought screamed through my brain, shocking me out of my kissing reverie completely. Forget the notion of “the heat of the moment”—I was literally going up in flames!

My eyes flew open, but I couldn’t look down to see how much of my hair was on fire because Hayden and I were still in lip-lock. All I knew was that I didn’t want the flames to reach my face. The hair spray I’d so liberally applied earlier was probably acting as an ac- celerant—I might only have seconds to spare!

I threw up my arm, trying to push Hayden away, and instead felt my hand make contact with one of the heavy candles positioned be- tween us. I heard the clunk of the glass holder hitting the table at the same second that I felt boiling-hot wax spill onto my arm.

My whole body jolted from the searing pain. My teeth slammed together in an instinctual reaction and I bit down on Hayden’s lips, which were still intertwined with mine. Hayden let out a muffled shout.

I ripped away from him and stared in horror at the gash in his bottom lip. But there was no time to apologize yet. I snatched the burning ends of my hair from the candle jar, then threw my glass of Coke over them, thankfully extinguishing the flames before they got any closer to my head.

My wrist was prickling with pain from the blisteringly hot wax. I needed ice. I needed liquid of any description. I snatched up Hayden’s Coke and poured it on my arm. As my pain level dropped from all-consuming smart to a bearable throbbing, my attention snapped back to Hayden. He had leaped to his feet and was clutch- ing his mouth. Blood was trickling between his fingers.

Blood. My kiss had actually drawn blood. And not in a sexy, Twi- light way. I wanted to be sick.

“Hayden!” I leaped up from my cushion, too.

“I have to get to the bathroom before I get blood everywhere.”

He pushed past me, his words muffled by his hand, and took off down the hall to the downstairs bathroom.

I ran to the kitchen for the first aid kit. I wanted to cry, from both the extreme embarrassment of having sunk my teeth into my Potential Prince and the throbbing pain of my wrist. I swiped at my eyes with the back of my hand, pushing away tears as I dashed toward the bathroom. I had to stay calm. I would have plenty of time to reflect upon my disastrous attempt at acting the siren once Hayden’s lips weren’t streaming blood. Right now I had to focus on helping him.

Hayden turned as I entered. He had one of our hand towels pressed to his lips. I gasped when I saw that the towel was no lon- ger white but almost completely red, soaked with blood in the few minutes he’d been in the bathroom.

“It won’t stop bleeding,” he said. “I think I have to go to the hospital.”

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