It was a mistake to come, Katie thought as she checked her cloak and moved into the large, opulent ballroom. At least, it was a mistake to come alone. Her manager had really given her no choice; it was the League's annual Christmas gala and as captain ofPuddlemere United, she was expected to be in attendance. She could have asked Anthony to escort her but he was busy with Padma, most likely. She didn't begrudge him his happiness; her pseudo-brother deserved it as much as anyone.
She should've asked someone to accompany her, though. She could practically feel the lecherous gaze of almost every man in the room, and probably some of the women. Reilly Chambers was most likely among the gathered and theRavenclaw woman had never made any bones about her attraction.
So here she was. Katie Bell, age twenty-seven, Puddlemere's captain and right outside chaser, beautiful, wealthy, generally fabulous, and alone at the bar.
As she nursed her drink and tried not to think about the sad state of her personal life, Katie could feel a pair of eyes boring holes in the small of her back, admiring the creamy skin bared by the indecent cut of her dress. Turning slowly, she followed the gaze back to a pair of slate blueeyes perched above a small, mischievous smirk.
Stewart Ackerly, aged twenty-four, Keeper, recently acquired by the Arrows from the Kestrals and notorious ladies man. Whispers ran amok about his supposed conquests; of course, considering the state of the press, over half of them were most likely fabrications. Katie knew, though, through her years in the public eye, that nearly every rumor had a sliver of truth to it.
Her cheeks tinged pink with the slightest of flushes under his intense gaze. If looks could undress, there was no doubt she'd be naked in front of the entire gala. Not that I'd mind if we were alone...
No. That line of thought needed to be nipped in the bud, and quickly. Stewart was exactly the kind of man she didn't want to want: arrogant, conceited, egotistical, a regular Lothario. Not who she should be attracted to.
Yet, despite her mind's protestations, she was attracted. Her body was keenly aware of his eyes on her whenever they were in the same room. She had half a mind to just let it ride, see what would happen. Maybe if she worked her attraction out, it would go away.
But what if it didn't? After her last failed relationship with a fellow Quidditch player, she wasn't rearing to jump back into that arena. No, it was best to keep her personal life completely separate from her professional one.
She nearly spilled her vodka cranberry when she heard, "Bell," murmured from right beside her. Startled, Katie cursed inwardly. She'd been so caught up in her own musings that she hadn't noticed the very object of her thoughts had moved across the room to her.
Stewart's blue eyes were dark with a mixture of amusement and mischief as he watched the normally composed Katie Bell jump like a skittish little kitten. Fitting, considering her House loyalties.
Brown eyes flashed up to the man's face, taking note of the way his tuxedo fit his trim form just right. Purely for observation purposes, nothing more.
At least, that's what she was telling herself.
"Ackerly," she answered coolly, giving him a curt nod.
"Didn't peg you for the skittish type," Stewart remarked, lips curling into a smirk. "Am I going to have to wear a bell so I don't startle you again?"
"I'm not skittish under normal circumstances. Constant vigilance," she quoted, her brown eyes flashing in irritation. "You just... surprised me, that's all."
He snickered. "I'll make sure not to do it again. In fact, since I would hate to surprise you again, prepare for a crushing defeat in February. You can cry on my shoulder afterward, if you like."
Katie laughed, she couldn't help it. "The day that your team pulls out of seventh place and beats us will be a cold day in Hell. Don't worry, I'll bring you a box of tissues for after I score on you ten times... again."
Wouldn't mind scoring with you, Miss Bell, he thought, refraining from comment. He didn't feel like being hexed, thank you very much.
He'd had his eye on the feisty brunette Chaser for quite some time now. Probably since she'd come back home from the States, if he had to stop and think about it. He'd not noticed her at school, what with the age difference, and she'd left England after the Final Battle to pursue her career abroad. Then, a year ago, she'd returned and blown into his life like an English summer storm.
She was intelligent, witty, devoted to the game they both loved, had the temperament of a veela, and Merlin she was beautiful.
Yet she was reclusive. While most professional Quidditch players fluttered in and out of the tabloids, Katie Bell was rarely to be seen at Britian's hottest nightspots. He'd only seen her out twice, once at Symposium in Dublin, the second time at Incubus Dreams in London, both times in the company of AliciaSpinnet and Angelina Johnson.
He wanted her, more than he'd wanted any one woman in memory. She, on the other hand, seemingly wanted nothing to do with him.
The music changed from an upbeat jive to a smooth, seductive jazz number and Stewart was powerless to resist the urge. Turning slightly to face Katie, he held out his hand.
"Dance with me?"
Katie turned her attention back to him, surprise clearly written in her dark brown eyes. "I thought you weren't going to surprise me again," she commented as she debated his offer. Simple question deserves a simple answer: yes or no.
"You didn't answer my question, Bell."
"You didn't answer mine."
"I asked first."
Bugger. Eyeing his offered hand, her eyes flitted back up to his face, lingering. Her mind was screaming no, don't take that chance. Even if it is just a dance, you don't want to feel that.
But her body- and her heart, if truth were to be told- were screaming yes. What harm would it do? It was just a dance, after all.
Mind made up, a small smile lit her lips as she set her drink down. "Alright," she answered, placing her small hand in his larger one. "But just one dance."
"That's all I'm asking for, Bell."
As he pulled her out onto the dance floor and into his arms, Katie's mind was instantly swamped with doubts and other pesky thoughts. She didn't want to feel again, didn't want his arms to make her feel like she was alive. Alas, they did.
This was wrong, but oh so right.