Julian shot him a menacing look but Sterling didn’t care. He had, on more than one occasion, with and without the help of his brother, put Julian in his place. The look Chase had given the new girl made his blood boil. Chase’s eyes had never left her, raking over her body as if she were a piece of meat being presented to a starving mob.
Kalyn scowled and walked away, the crowd parting to let her pass.
Sterling put an arm around Laila’s ribs, turning her in the other direction. He glanced behind him and saw Julian motion for Chase to follow him. His friend nodded but he stood as still as a statue, watching Laila walk away, until the people on the dance floor filled in the space between them.
“Thanks for saving me back there,” Laila said. Sterling’s attention shifted from the two guys behind him to the pretty girl tucked closely to his side. No, not just pretty, gorgeous. And not gorgeous like the other girls at the school who had enough money to hide behind artificially sculpted faces and expensive make up. She was naturally beautiful with long strawberry blonde hair, and small, delicate features. Her nose turned up slightly at the end to give her an innocent appearance, and her perfectly bowed lips were deliciously full and pink. The other girls would rip her apart if she wasn’t careful.
“You’re welcome,” Sterling had to remind himself to answer her. “I imagine you’ll want to form your own opinions about the rest of the students here, but those two really aren’t the type of guys you want to hang around with.”
“I figured as much,” Laila said. “They look pretty creepy.”
Sterling led her over to a table and pulled out a chair.
“Chivalrous, are we?” He held the chair, waiting for her to sit down.
“It might be considered chivalry on the West Coast, but here we call it being a gentleman.”
Laila let out a small, barely audible laugh that sounded like the soft playing of a harp. He sat down, trying to keep his composure. Harp music? What the hell was happening to him? His heart raced as if he had just finished a soccer game and his fingers twitched with a longing to feel the softness of her skin. He looked around the room in an attempt to calm his nerves, noting the whispers and glances from the groups of students still dancing. He saw Randy Showman, the strange ginger scholarship student, staring at the new girl but he quickly stood up and walked away when Sterling caught him. He sighed. Word had probably already spread throughout the class that Laila had stood up to Kalyn. Sterling could only imagine what the girls were whispering about her and Kalyn would surely retaliate. He knew her well enough to guarantee it. Luckily, Laila seemed naïve enough, for now, to be above the swirling shark-infested waters of Harper’s.
“You’re staring,” Sterling commented, as he turned his attention back to her. Not that he minded.
“Sorry. It’s just that when your brother said you had the ‘crazy eyes,’ I didn’t understand what he meant.”
Sterling let her stare for a moment longer. He used to be self-conscious about his eyes, unsure of how to react when people commented on them. But he had grown accustomed to the attention. It was uncommon but not unheard of for people to be born with two different colored irises. The dark blue of his left eye contrasted with the light green of his right, but in the dimly lit basement, he wasn’t surprised it had taken Laila this long to notice.
“They’re beautifully peculiar,” he heard her say softly as her gaze danced between the two colors. Beautifully peculiar. That was a new one and he liked it.
“You’re one to talk,” he said and she blushed and looked away.
“No, no, no. You saw mine, now let me see yours,” he teased as he reached for her face, turning it back to his.
Laila tried to resist, then gave up and opened her eyes wide. He held her chin in his hand and moved closer.
“Kalyn called them blue, but they aren’t. Are they violet?”
“I’m impressed you’re able to tell the difference in this light.”
“Well, now that I’ve noticed, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to look away,” Sterling smiled and she blushed again. He could tell she hadn’t been complimented much, which was amazing considering her beauty.
“Violet eyes are far less common than what I have.” He watched her long lashes blink in what seemed like slow motion. Did this girl have any idea what she was doing to him? He glanced down at her seductively pouty lips, though he didn’t think she intended for them to be so, and he couldn’t stop himself from running his thumb over their pink fullness. But the second he touched her mouth, she pulled away from him and sat back in her chair.
“I’m sorry,” he said quickly. “I didn’t mean to–”
“You don’t need to apologize,” Laila interrupted him. He was relieved to see she didn’t look mad. “You just surprised me, that’s all.”
“So, California?” Sterling quickly changed the subject.
“California,” Laila admitted, almost as if she was embarrassed by it.
“What brings you all the way to Harper’s?”
“I want to go to Yale. More students from Harper’s Prep are admitted to Yale than any other private school on the East Coast. And certainly more than any on the West Coast.”
Sterling smiled. Both of his parents were Yale alumni and he had never imagined going anywhere else for college. Alistair, on the other hand, had dreams of a big city and had upset their parents by announcing he was applying to Harvard and NYU. Yale was his backup.
“Did you go to a private school in San Francisco?”
“I did. Not a boarding school, like this one, but it was private.”
“Let me guess, an all-girls Catholic school?”
Laila frowned. “Yes.”
Sterling laughed. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.”
“It wasn’t that bad,” she insisted.
“Well, I think you’ll be just fine here. Keep flinging insults at Kalyn Andretti and you’ll be famous in no time.”
“She’s not going to let that one go, is she?”
“Probably not. But I wouldn’t worry too much about it. She’s harmless unless you’re susceptible to catty comments and gossip.”