Off-balance, she dropped the pads, her hands flailing for purchase, her Marvel Universe tote bag swinging from her shoulder. Tyler was going to kill her if she didn't die from the cerebral hemorrhage that would be inevitable once her head hit the tile floor. At least Salena Auntie was there. One text and the entire Patel family would know when and how she died, and the funeral would be arranged before the ambulance arrived to take her to the morgue.
Time slowed and she squeezed her eyes shut as she fell, trying to remember every moment of her twenty-seven years on earth—happy family, sad family, small family, big family, heartache, heartbreak, Max . . .
She was so preoccupied with reliving her most poignant memories that it took her a moment to realize she was no longer airborne. Strong, warm hands encircled her waist, holding her safe. "Are you okay?"
Deep, warming, and as delicious as liquid caramel, the voice sent a tingle of electricity down her spine, and a jolt of recognition through her body as hard as the strong arms around her.
She knew that voice. She had heard it almost every day for ten years. Her gaze lifted, and for a moment she forgot to breathe.
Liam Freaking Bastard Murphy.
Her brother's onetime best friend. Her undying preteen crush, teen obsession, and still the object of her nightly fantasies. The man who had broken her heart and disappeared from her life never to be seen or heard from again . . .
Her pulse kicked up a notch, as the still-functioning part of her brain cataloged his appearance. Time had worn hard lines and chiseled planes into what had once been a slightly rounded face, tipping the balance from simply handsome into breathtakingly gorgeous. A five-o'clock shadow darkened his jaw, and his lips—God, his lips—were firm and curved into the familiar smile that had once made her weak in the knees.
"Daisy?!" His voice rose slightly in pitch, and her gaze snapped up to eyes as blue as the ocean she had wanted to drown herself in after Liam stood her up on the night of her senior prom and scurried off into oblivion like the lowly night-crawling scumbag he had turned out to be.
She opened her mouth to speak but nothing came out. How did she express the maelstrom of emotions coursing through her veins? It had been ten years since she'd stood alone on the front steps of her house—in a bright pink prom dress, the corsage her father had bought her pinned to her shoulder—waiting for Liam to take her to the prom. Ten years since he'd disappeared, never to be seen again. How many times had she imagined this moment?
Should she slap him or kick him between the legs?
• 2 •
LIAM'S arms tightened around Daisy's waist in a grip he seemed in no hurry to break. "I can't believe it's you."
Of course he couldn't. The Daisy he knew was young and innocent and had fully embraced her position on the high school geek squad. Her clothes had been quirky and weird, a mix of accessories, colors, patterns, and fandoms that she'd combined into a unique geek-chic style. She'd tied her long, dark hair in a ponytail so it didn't get in the way when she was helping the freshmen with their computer programs, mixing chemicals for science fair projects, or studying for the latest math competition. Prom night was the first time she'd ever dressed up, and even then she'd had to ask her cousin Layla to help with her hair and makeup. Not that it had done much good.
"Let me go, Liam." How ironic that she'd spent her teen years dreaming of being in Liam's arms, and now it was the last place on earth she wanted to be.
"For a moment there, I thought you didn't recognize me." He slowly relaxed his grip and she pulled away, feeling instantly bereft.
"I wish that were true." She looked back over her shoulder for an escape route only to see Orson and Madison walking her way, hand in hand, hair slightly mussed, clothes askew. Behind them, Salena Auntie battered her way through the crowd with her enormous red purse, poor Roshan following in her wake.
Just what she needed. A lifetime's worth of humiliation descending on her all at once.