Home > First Comes Like (Modern Love #3)(2)

First Comes Like (Modern Love #3)(2)
Author: Alisha Rai

“Ooh cool.” The redhead glanced at her phone, her interest exhausted. “See you up there?”

“Yup.” She just had to . . . leave the bathroom and take the elevator up. Her new bathroom selfie friend made it look easy.

“You got this,” Jia whispered to her reflection, then bounced on her feet and lip-synched a few bars of Destiny’s Child. Surely if anything could get her motivated, it was Beyoncé telling her she was a survivor. She was gonna make it. She was a survivor. Keep on surviving.

No, that didn’t help. She had never felt like this before, terrified and excited and nervous. All those feelings separately, yes, she’d had them, but never all together.

Was this what infatuation felt like? Was this what she’d missed all those years when she’d been studiously avoiding distractions?

Jia pulled a wireless earpiece from the hidden pocket of her dress and stuck it in her ear. Then she navigated to her audio files and hit play on the latest one.

“Hi, Future Jia!” came her own cheerful voice in her ear.

If anyone knew that she taped affirmations for herself, she would die. Which was why it was a closely guarded secret, shared only with her twin.

Jia glanced around warily, but the bathroom was empty now. “You’re nervous,” said Past Jia, “and that’s okay. You’re meeting Dev face-to-face for the first time tonight, and that’s weird.”

It was weird, to feel like she’d connected so deeply with someone she’d never even been in the same room with.

“Are you scared you won’t feel the same connection when you’re physically in the same place?”

Yes.

“Are you scared you’re going to hate the sound of his voice? Or he’ll hate yours?”

Yes.

“Are you scared he’s not even real and this has all been fake?”

“No,” she whispered, with a conviction that she knew would cause her older, more cynical roommates to exchange a glance.

One of her many talents was stalking people on the internet, but there hadn’t been any stalking necessary here. Dev had messaged her from his official account. She wouldn’t have even responded to him if that blue checkmark hadn’t declared his authenticity.

You want him to be real so badly, it may be clouding your judgment. That was possible. He’d been kind to her for the weeks she’d been sick and the weeks after, when she’d been too fatigued to get out of bed. His words had given her something to look forward to while she’d been quarantined from her roommates, on the opposite coast from her family.

“It’s weird he’s being so hesitant about seeing you right now, which is why it’s even more important you bite the bullet and get in there. Things don’t happen, you have to make them happen.”

Yes, that was her mantra.

“Whatever your fears are right now, remember how sweet he is, and the beautiful romantic stuff he’s sent you. Time is nothing but a way to mark the beat of your heart.”

She straightened and smiled, as she had when he’d said the romantic words. Yes, her roommates could keep their cynicism. She liked him.

Hopefully, he liked her! Liked her for who she was, unconventional and goofy and successful and not humble and an attention seeker. The pretty parts and the not-always-pretty parts. The parts he’d only get to see in real life.

A burst of confidence had her popping her headphone out of her ear. She did one last mirror check for any pesky wrinkles or blobs. She’d decided on a simple gold scarf for her hair today. The material caught the bronzer on her cheeks and matched the gold threads in her black-and-gold dress, and the matching dupatta she’d draped and pinned over her shoulders as a shawl.

She’d worn this dress for a party over a year ago, and it was the reason he’d messaged her that first time. You look like you were dipped in gold.

Her smile now was genuine. Of course this would work. He would be excited by this surprise, happy she’d taken matters into her own hands. That was one of the things he’d liked about her, he said. Her assertiveness.

It was time.

Jia took the elevator to the rooftop bar. She got why this was an It Place, with its greenery and flowers wrapped around the chandeliers and dripping off the ceiling. At any other time, she’d be joining the people over at the balcony, taking photos and selfies with all the concentration of an accountant doing taxes. Because for most of them, this was probably their job.

Not tonight. She wanted to speak with him before the party grew too crowded. That way, if it was wonderful, they could talk the night away. If it was terrible, she could escape.

The hostess’s gaze flicked over Jia as she approached, and Jia knew what the woman was doing: calculating the cost of her clothes and shoes and cross-referencing it with her demeanor. There were plenty of important people in L.A. who dressed down. “Hello, I’m here for the Hope Street party.”

“Lovely. Your name, miss?”

“Jia Ahmed.” She surveyed the restaurant. It was still cool for March, and the windows that surrounded the room were all open, bringing in a nice breeze. Some people were wearing jackets, but Jia was fine in her long-sleeved dress. She’d grown up in the frigid Northeast; she could handle sixty degrees when it was salt-tinged ocean air.

She recognized more than a few faces. This wasn’t her first Hollywood party. She got invites fairly regularly since she’d signed her last spokesmodel contract a couple years ago. The guest lists were usually a combination of influencers, young actors, models, sports stars, and Twitterati. Her roommate Katrina had been a model, and she’d told Jia she’d hated these soirees. Jia loved them, every single glittery, slightly fake part of them, from the laughably pretentious people to the gift bags. Ooooh, the gift bags. Dumping those adult goody bags out on her bed after the party and pawing through the loot was a delight, though she usually just gave away most of the stuff to her followers.

Tonight, the gift bag was the second-best attraction, though.

The hostess found her name on her tablet and her demeanor changed, becoming less haughty. “Welcome, Ms. Ahmed.”

She’d known she’d be on the list, but impostor syndrome was a struggle. Jia inclined her head in what she imagined a classy gesture to be and tried to glide nonchalantly through the indoor spring wonderland of flowers and lush greenery like she belonged.

The bathroom selfie redhead was here, ordering a drink at the bar. Jia recognized a few of the actors, including the salt-and-pepper Richard Reese, the star of the show, who was animatedly talking to a rapt audience.

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