“Nope.” I slam the door in Vic’s face as soon as I see what she’s holding.
“Come on, Hecate,” she says, clearly unruffled. “It’s perfect.”
I open the door again, just a bit. Vic sticks her foot between the door and the frame so I can’t close it again.
“That’s not what I ordered,” I say, waving my hand at the atrocity Vic’s holding.
“The costume store said the one you ordered was out of stock,” she says.
“No, they didn’t. I called them this morning.”
I know exactly what happened. Vic didn’t approve of how conservative my chosen costume was, so she ignored my wishes and got me the one she wanted me to wear.
There’s a pause, and a sigh. “Okay, so they didn’t. But they’re closed now, and I’ve got this costume, and just come on, Hecate. Let me in. You’re going to look so fierce.”
I open the door in spite of my better judgment. “I don’t want to look fierce. Fierce is not my goal.”
Vic slinks in, dressed as a slutty—something?
“What are you wearing?” I ask. Whatever it is, it involves a filmy negligee, stripper heels, and some sort of animal ears on a headband.
“I’m a mouse, duh,” she says, pointing to the ears.
“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” I whine as I look at the slip of fabric Vic’s holding.
“Frankly, I assumed that you expected me to pull this stunt when you sent me after your costume. Why on earth did you think I could be trusted?” Vic says, grinning.
She’s not wrong. I really should have known.
“I had, I don’t know, faith in you?” I answer drily.
“Pretty dumb on your part,” she says, sounding not even a little sorry.
“Remind me again why you’re my best friend,” I mutter.
“Because I let you share my crayons in Pre-K and you cried whenever I stayed home sick,” Vic says.
“Fine,” I sigh. Her smile gets slightly bigger. She knew damn well that I’d give in to her with just a little pushback.
I grab the wisp of a costume from her hand and head into my bedroom to change. I’d ordered a gorgeous chiton and spent hours watching video tutorials of how to drape it in a way that was the most flattering for my ample curves.
Those curves certainly won’t be hidden under the sorority-girl version of the Aphrodite costume Vic brought me.
The top of the costume barely covers my breasts, and I know I’ll be spending the entire night making sure I’m not giving anyone a free show. I’m trying to determine if I can wrap a scarf around me somehow when Vic barges in.
“I have double-sided tape,” she says.
“I don’t even know what that means.”
She rolls her eyes. “Just for one night, will you please show off those amazing curves of yours? I’d kill to fill out a costume like this.”
Vic’s got a perfect body, and she should damn well know it, based on how much attention she gets from pretty much anyone with eyes.
“The tape keeps things from sliding around,” she says as she tacks down one side of the bodice, and then the other. By the time she’s done I still feel pretty exposed, but less like my goods are going to come flopping out at any given moment.
“I don’t think I’m going,” I blurt as I look at myself in the mirror. The short skirt falls about halfway down my thighs, but it feels like I’m dressed in nothing but lingerie.
Vic gives me a hard look. “You are, too. And you’re going to have fun.”
“The goddess Hecate wouldn’t be caught dead in anything this flimsy,” I say.
“Well, my best friend Hecate is going to have the time of her life at the Haunted Mansion tonight,” Vic says briskly. “And we both know if we fight about this, I’m going to win, and then we’ll have to stay at the party even later to make up for the time we lost fighting. You may as well just agree now.”
I sigh. She’s right.
“Fine,” I say. “But I refuse to have fun.”
We haveto park what feels like miles from the Haunted Mansion, and my sandals definitely weren’t made for hiking.
“Tell me again why we’re doing this.”
Vic huffs a sigh. “Because you need to have a little bit of fun, Little Miss Buzzkill. It’s been all ‘dissertation this’ and ‘research that’ for the past few months.”
“Well, yes. That is how PhD programs normally work.”
“You need to get out. Meet new people.”
“I know plenty of people already.”
Vic rolls her eyes at me. “When’s the last time you went out on a date?” she asks.
“Do study sessions count?”
She fixes me with a cross look.
“Fine,” I sigh. “It’s been a while.”
That’s understating it, and we both know it.
“Hecate. It’s been three years since Jeff. You’ve got to put yourself back out there.”
“Do I really, though?”
“If for no other reason than your own physical needs, yes.”
My cheeks are hot. Vic may be my oldest friend, but that doesn’t make it easy for me to talk about sex with her. “I can take care of my own needs.”
She stops me and puts her hands on my shoulder, staring at me. “Just because you can doesn’t mean you should have to. You deserve to have some fun.”
I bite my tongue to keep from responding that my idea of fun is my couch, a bowl of popcorn, and a three-hour documentary. Sometimes it’s just easier to go along with Vic.
“Here we are!” she says as we stop in front of an enormous house.
It’s got a certain melancholy to it, as if it’s seen its share of sadness. The mood is buoyed by the costumed revelers, though; they move in and out of the massive main doors, making the house look like a living thing.
“Come on,” Vic says, tugging my hand. “Let’s go.”
Inside is a scene right out of a Jane Austen novel—well, maybe the version with zombies. People stream in and out of rooms, laughing and dancing, with the action centering around a giant ballroom.
As usual, I feel invisible next to Vic. She’s so gorgeous that people’s eyes are drawn right to her. Sometimes this invisibility bothers me, but, considering my half-dressed state, I’m not too upset about it tonight.
Heads swivel as we walk past, and Vic puts a bit more swing in her step. Not that she needs it, as the sheer height of her heels already has her hips swaying back and forth.
I don’t resent her, honestly. I tried once, when we were in high school, and it just wound up making me feel worse. I’ve just had to come to terms with the fact that my best friend is practically a supermodel.
A man dressed like a Spartan soldier steps into our path, and my breath hitches for a moment. He’s absolutely gorgeous. He’s built—he’s not having a problem making his costume look good, that’s for sure. But he also has warm brown eyes that instantly put me at ease.
Ok, maybe I resent Vic a little. There’s no way this Adonis is here for me.
“Hey,” he says with a smile, looking at both of us. “I’m Dylan.”
“Hi,” Vic says flirtatiously.
“Would you like to dance?” he asks, and I zone out. Of course Vic would hook up with the hottest guy at the party within minutes of walking through the door.
“I’m going to go find the punch bowl,” I mutter.
Vic nails me in the side with her elbow. “Ow,” I say, rubbing my ribs as I glare at her.
“This is Hecate,” Vic says. “And yes, she’d love to dance with you.”
I know my face has worked itself into a ridiculous “who, me?” expression, but I’ve momentarily lost control over my features.
“Me?” I squeak.
Vic rolls her eyes. “She’s really very smart,” she tells the man. “Just maybe not at this very second.”
She gives me a little push forward, and I stumble against Dylan. My hand lands on his firm chest, and I proceed to illustrate Vic’s statement by staring at him, open-mouthed.
“Hey,” he says gently as his hand moves to my hip to steady me. “Everything okay?”
“But,” I say, looking over my shoulder to discover that Vic has disappeared, “didn’t you want to dance with my friend?”
My hand is still on his chest, and his is still on my hip. “Not especially,” he says. “Is this your way of turning me down?”
My head is shaking almost instantly. “No,” I say breathlessly.
“Good,” he says, taking my hand, “because you’re the only woman here I’m interested in dancing with.”