Shattered, Scattered, and Sparkling

Love at Not Quite First Sight

Juliana Cortez is the most beautiful creature I've ever seen. I realized this once more as she descended down the front stairs of her father's mansion into the ball room. Sure I knew she was hot, I've seen her almost every day and in all manner of outfits but she looked simply radiant tonight. My attraction to her was increased tenfold by the fact that any interaction between us was forbidden so entirely that lives could be at stake. And then there was the added adrenaline rush she presented me with, because as forbidden as she was, I knew that it was well within my abilities to go and talk with her and escape in one piece.

::: that morning:::

My ears were assaulted by the unholy pounding of some mediocre rap star. I growled a few equally unholy words into my pillow before slipping out of bed and stumbling across my room. It was messy but what guy's room isn't? Granted, my room was neater than what most considered messy, it was messy with a purpose. It's hard to tell if people have searched your room if it's organized and easily put back. Either way I had no worries of tripping on anything. I missed the door though, and slammed straight into the frame as I tried to make it to the living room and turn off that racket.

Marc and Benny were the source. My cousin looking shocked that I was up and my best friend was grinning at my bed head. Marcus always was the smarter one; this was obviously his idea so I threw my pillow at him.

"Your mom says you have to come with us today." Benny stated, not looking away from the giant TV showing BET videos.

"I know you love your job, and that you've been obsessed with it since that unfortunate series of events with Rosie. And what big Benny isn't telling you is that your mom won't let him go anywhere without me since I'm the only responsible one around here."

I scowled, since when has my mother considered Marcus the responsible one? He's the person who corrupted me starting at age 12, using our names and parents to get us out of every trouble he got us into.

"I'm not obsessed." My sleepy mind couldn't come up with anything else smarter.

"Bullshit, you would've cried if you were a girl. Quit acting like a little bitch and let's do something tonight. She wasn't even that pretty."

I glared. "Thanks Benny, what a supportive cousin." Marc laughed but I could tell he agreed. Hell, he always agrees with an excuse to go do 'something'.

"There's a huge party tonight. Really cool thing with costumes and hot girls and oh, would you look here, I have an invitation."

"Marc, I can't go to that. That's the Cortez costume party."

"Yeah, we can't crash that. Aunt Violetta said that I had to stay out of trouble after the thing yesterday."

Well, that was the first time I was stumped by what Benny said. "What happened yesterday?"

"Jesus, you really are out of it. Some of the boys from M got smashed and went pranking on Cortez turf. Fight broke out and they got arrested."

"Travers called your dad and Cortez down and gave an ultimatum, to keep their guys under control or he'd start pulling all the lawyers on 'em, trying to find loopholes and get 'em arrested."

How did I miss something that big? Nobody though Travers had the balls to actually take on two of the three largest factions in Atlanta. And with the possible proposal between Peter and a Cortez, Travers could be waging war on all three.

"You would've heard all about it 'cept you locked yourself in your room to work on Bio last night. C'mon, I even know what you need to wear and they won't mess with you."

I picked up my pillow and slammed it once more into the face of my best friend. God I hate it when he whines. I relayed this to him before returning to my room, now that I was actually up, a shower would be nice.

"I'll pick you up on campus after class; we can get ready at my place." He called down the hall, knowing I would hear him. "Have fun with your test, college boy." And he was gone.

Marcus Godwin and I have been best friends since the age of five when he actually talked to me on the first day of kindergarten. The other kids knew we were different; it was kinda obvious when large men in black suits dropped you off instead of your parents. We eventually accepted other kids of rich parents into our little circle (because the kids finally figured out that we were the elite) but we never forgot how they had been afraid of us on day one. And they should've been.

Just as Marc has always been tearing up my life, I had always known, on some level, about Juliana. When I was very little, I remember hearing my dad get excited because his big rival had a weak spot, a daughter. It was only in grade school did I realize how important she was. Juliana, being a few years younger than me and Marc wasn't in any of our classes but we all had recess together and she had wanted to play kickball with the boys. Not with my friends, of course. Even then we knew about the line in the sand between our fathers, we knew that we to had to follow the rules of family. But there was a new kid, from Tennessee and he didn't know about the rules, he didn't know who Juliana was and he told her she couldn't play. I remember the exact expression on her 9 year old face, all the way across the yard. She didn't cry, she didn't scream, she didn't pout, she simply said "I am going to play" and it was done. Her cousin Andres tripped the kid from Tennessee and during the game, that new kid was dog piled at least twice. After the second time, Juliana told them to stop, the Cortez boys. She told them to act like gentlemen and they did and I realized the power she held.

I too was the only child of my father but I was never revered as Juliana was. It was more widespread that I worked for the family and everyone knew that I would take over but I still did not command the absolute will of my employees. The truth was, they loved her and would've killed to protect her. In middle school I realized that she was intelligent and that was rather scary. Intelligence meant that she knew what her father really did- what her family really did and it meant that she could eventually take over. Then in high school I realized why she was truly dangerous.

Juliana Cortez was gorgeous and she knew it. On top of the intelligence and the loyalty she could command she was temptation more powerful than any apple ever created. Thus she was deemed the cursed gold of Cortez. In keeping with the Mexican legend, anyone who came near or touched it was cursed and with Juliana that meant her cousins were going to get you and find a convenient alley. It was in high school that my father asked me to create and maintain a detailed file on the Cortez heir in preparation for me becoming the next family head.

That was two years ago and now, at 20 I'm in college. College that I hadn't planned on or desired due to a waiting job within the family. Dear old dad thought I should stay on the surveillance job so I followed Juliana to Verona University where I take the minimal amount of classes to qualify as a student. As much as I think that my father is just trying to occupy me so I can't take over while he still wants to run the company, I also think that he saw what I did: Juli's true future. Not even Marcus thinks that she'll inherit the business, he has bets on her cousin Andres who is ruthless and quick like the elder Cortez but Marc's never been one for subtlety. He and everyone else see her as a link to some other powerhouse via marriage but I've seen the true curse of the Cortez gold unleashed and there's no way in hell she'll ever be just a trophy wife.

The rumors of a proposal from Peter Godwin (Marc's dear cousin) are helping the popular theory of Andres' s succession but I can't decide if I buy it. It could make life very difficult for me in the short run if I have to keep monitoring Juliana because I hate Peter or in the long run if the Cortez's link themselves to the family of the Governor. Then again, I might get a new position assisting my father if they get married as there is no longer a threat from the Cortez's. By the time I was dressed I had made up my mind to go to the party, if only to make Marc stop whining, and was reciting scientists and what they discovered.

"I can't believe I'm wearing this fairy suit." I shuddered as my sexually ambiguous friend eyed me. Robin Hood really was a man in tights and Jesus; I don't know why girls wear them either.

"Look, you know the reasoning so quit complaining. I promise I'll beat up my cousin later for being such a fag."

I was dressed in the exact copy of Peter's costume. It was the best way for the rival heir to go to a Cortez party because no one would bother Peter; they all wanted him to propose to Juliana. It wouldn't have been that bad if Pete weren't such a flamer and picked Robin Hood. If you're gonna wear green tights you might as well just go as Tinkerbell you pansy. I really wanted to kick him since there were some decent Robin Hoods without tights, just ridiculous boots but no tights. And the fact that Marc's Optimus Prime costume flat out kicked ass wasn't helping. Benny got to be Zorro under the assumption that there would be several Zorros and he wouldn't draw too much attention. Naturally I complained.

"Why couldn't I be Zorro too?"

"Y'know how you're always talkin' about Juliana bein' so goddamn important to Cortez and how they won't let shit happen to her and she's their world and all that conspiracy junk?"

I nodded to confirm, curious as to what my simple cousin was trying to say. Benny knew most of my theories because he had to listen to most of my rants but he disregarded them, thinking Cortez would never leave a girl in charge. Benny was a bit stupid sometimes.

"Well you're just as fuckin' important to us. You can't look like just anybody; you gotta look like the douche so that they won't shoot you on sight. You really are just as important as she is; we just don't tell you because you'll get all cocky and annoying and shit. But you're annoying now too."

"Fine, let's just do this thing, I was promised hotter girls than Rosie." Marc could easily read my face. After acing my bio test and having my condescending relative tell me that I am in fact, the shit, the 'let's do something reckless' gleam was back in my eye. I, Roman Morretti was ready to drink and party and possibly get laid.

"Oy College boy, onward to them hoes."

**present**

So that brings us to the actual party. Sebastian Cortez had pulled out all the stops for this one, to celebrate some charity or another. I recognized several people in the crowd from my files, all of them related to Cortez or the Governor's people. This early into the party, many guests had ditched their masks in favor of flirting face to face, or because they didn't need them. The girl I was talking to had lost her mask and was dressed as a Victoria Secret Angel with legs that went on forever. She was dragging me from the ballroom to find a corner to make out when Juli decided to appear.

Though they were both dressed as angels, Juliana was of a different breed as she glided down the stairs on gold Gucci heels, dressed in gold edged white with wings sprouting from her shoulders. Her mask was gold and simple and accented her green eyes and she smiled a soft, movement of those luscious lips. I didn't realize it then but that's when I first loved Juli.

I tugged on my own angel's hand. I think her name was Ashley. Christ, every other girl was an Ashley, Sarah or Jessica these days. "Hey babe, let's dance a bit." Being a typical high class party, there was a strange mix of music, sometimes causing dancers to dry hump and sometimes to actually dance but we obliged since all of our parents had paid for cotillion classes or debutante balls. Peter was asking her to dance, I could see from the edge of the mingle-ers as I grinded with my VS partner. Ashley-what's-her-name was really quite bad and a helluva lot drunker than I first thought. That wouldn't do and I would have to get rid of her soon. I'm a selfish person and I only spend time on semi conscious girls. It's so much better when they can tell you just how amazing a kisser you are. And for that ego stroking, I needed a somewhat sober girl.

Juliana had said yes as she and Pete entered the crowd of dancers. At first I thought he lucked out as the song changed to one of the formal dances and Peter would know that. Nope. The douche had been hoping for a rap song where he could just stand there and it was obvious.

Those shoes were getting stepped on. Those gold Gucci shoes that were $713.00 retail and on sale for $513.00. She had been bragging about those shoes for weeks during class. And now they were getting stepped on, not to mention her toes. And the dance wasn't even that hard. I felt for Juliana, even though I don't know why the hell you'd spend 500 dollars on stuff you walk on, even if they do make your legs look sexy as hell. To her credit, Juliana's face didn't change, even though her feet must've been dying. As the song was ending, Peter scampered off in the direction of the refreshments; his face was red so he must've known how much he screwed up.

I was drawn to her, despite all the back stories and logic that told me to ignore her. But damn, she was hard to ignore with that tanned, toned skin and that gold. She looked even more out of reach tonight. God I wanted her. I just wanted to say I had touched her, danced with her, and to be able to say I survived it. There was no magical path opening on the dance floor, no hallelujah chorus but I couldn't look away. Slowly edging the mingling, drinking masses, I made my way to Juliana. As I came up behind her, cocky adrenaline kicked in. my had brushed her wrist and led her back to the dancing.

"I thought you went to get drinks, Peter." She spoke English with the hint of a southern drawl that was unavoidable if you lived in Georgia but I knew that her Spanish was flawlessly authentic. I nodded to her statement because he had gone for drinks. Her smile wasn't real and that solidified my theory that she wouldn't marry him. With a smirk, I realized that the music was another classic dance. Juliana stiffened but it was barely perceptible. Unlike Peter I actually learned how to dance, mainly because girls are really attracted to it and cotillion girls are generally hot. Just as she had stiffened, Juli's eyes widened in the slightest of movements as we gracefully turned and those Gucci shoes remained un-scuffed.

"You aren't Peter."

"And I thank God for it every morning." I guided her with a firm hand on her lower back. Her deliciously bare lower back.

"Deep voice, dark hair, dark eyes. Are you my tall, dark and handsome?"

"Sorry to disappoint."

Her face drew neared to min and she spoke directly into my ear. "I know the guest list…I made it. You can only be a crasher and I'm betting on a Morretti." She paused as I trailed fingers down her spine to throw her thought process but she wouldn't be deterred, although she couldn't hide being affected. "And the only Morretti that has the confidence and stupidity to do that is…" the song ended and compelled by some insane force, I brushed a kiss across her cheek and her hand.

"Thank you for the dance, bella."

Juliana's slender fingers grasped mine with increased pressure, "Roman." I've never heard anyone say my name in that way. "See you on Monday." It was time to go, little Miss Mafia knew who I was and I could see Peter getting closer and madder. Marc was doing some idiot thrusting dance for a group of drunken girls because he lacks my ideals about sobriety. Benny was nearby, incapable of being completely on his own and knowing better than to trail me around at a party. Forever a wing man, that one.

"Hey man, we gotta bounce. She's about to tell Papi that I'm here."

Marc ditched his transformer helmet to glance around the ballroom and punched me with a grin. "Shit man, I told you to go for a hot girl but you just had to play with the napalm, didn't you?"

The cockiness and adrenaline were still running hot so I replied with a shrug and made some dumbass comment like 'only the best'.

"The best is about to get your ass cursed. Let's go." We quickly skirted the tables, trying not to act like we were rushing to get out. I kept my eyes focused on Juliana, trusting my peripherals and Marcus to not crash into a table. In the growing disruption at the center of the dance floor Peter was being blatantly ignored by Andres, the right hand man of Senor Cortez. I smiled, the inconsideration showing that there was no true intention of the engagement. Pride runs this world and Cortez wouldn't leave his operation in the hands of a man he didn't respect.

Just as I reached the door of the ballroom to escape to Benny's car and away into the night, Juliana's eyes caught mine one last time. There was no longing, no sudden righting of the world or easily transmitted emotion. Her eyes didn't change at all, but she maintained the connection despite the dancers and guests between us. I returned her stare (not a glare, not a perusal) and tipped my triangular Robin Hood hat in acknowledgement. Our eyes remained locked, even as she turned to face her father, only at the very last moment breaking the connection by turning her head away. And I was gone.

"Hot damn!" Marcus screeched as we floored it out the front gates. Benny cursed and looked back at the mansion one last time. He leaned forward, between the front seats and shook his head at me.

"Little cuz, how is it that I don't do half the shit you do and Uncle's always gotta bust my balls for the stuff I pull? I mean, Julianna Cortez, the cursed gold herself? Jesus."

"It's all about timing. It is an art I have perfected. And I never get caught. Dad's had to bail you out how many times? You gotta learn when to quit Ben, so you can pull out and pull it off with some style." Benny sat back and I leaned over the side of the convertible, feeling the wind slam against my face at 95 mph. A spontaneous whoop escaped my throat as my adrenaline raced. I hadn't done something this reckless in a long time, months maybe and God it felt good. Marcus slowed to a more reasonable 47 miles per hour as we entered the edge of the city.

"You lied, Ro. That was one part timing and 3 parts luck back there. You're just so damn lucky. I would've gotten a ticket for pushing 60 in this car but you just fly through like some kind of stereotypical chick flick star."

I grinned at my best friend; there was only one thing that could make this night better. Two if you want to get technical. "Hey man, you got some cash? Benny never gets carded since I broke his nose last year."

"OOOOOOhhhhhh YES! Do another one of those Roman!" Drunk people should not be allowed to buy fireworks. Actually, I don't think they are. Guess that's why we bought them before we got drunk…when we were still sober. One of the best things about owning a bunch of hotels is the construction sites. We were at one of these sites between the city and the suburbs playing who can set off the most at one time.

Benny had been appointed the referee like always because he was the fastest to get intoxicated…like always. Marc and I have been playing Roman candle ping pong since we were 9 and when we turned 15 we started adding alcohol. We got more burns but it's more fun. Unfortunately, I was the only one still somewhat sober and I couldn't play by myself so I was setting off random explosives while avoiding the roman candle bursts that Marc was still shooting every now and then.

A pink ball of sulfury pain smacked into my shoulder and I cursed loud enough to be heard over the Chinese Fire Ball I had lit. Marcus giggled in a very effeminate way until my racquet hit him in the face. Yeah, that's what you get for playing Harry Potter, bitch. I think that was when the blinding headlights showed up. I could've passed out but I bet it was Donnie who had to come pick us up. Dad always sends Donnie. And there was the distinct taste of shoe polish in my mouth when I woke up this morning. The big D coats his leather seats in the crap, won't take anything else as a substitute, regardless of how many dealers tell him otherwise.

My alarm on my phone buzzed and beeped in my pocket, causing me to groan. I had class in half an hour and school was the last place I wanted to be. I considered not going; it's not as if my parents are concerned about my education. As far as my father is concerned, my schooling was over after I successfully ran the hotel he gave me for my 16th birthday.

"Get up, son. You have to work in half an hour." I lifted my head from my pillow to see my father comfortably seated on my couch, watching ESPN on mute. "And next time you and your friends decide to get inebriated, please patron a bar instead of littering on a job site, Travers is waiting for a reason to slap a fine on the company."

"Yes sir. Anything else this morning?" I yawned.

"Your mother would like to pick out the next costume you wear to a social event, and that she would like to thank Marcus for the mask in her sink." I saw a ghost of a smile on his face as he left the room. 20 minutes to get change and get to school.

College is great. There's a choice in class times and a choice in class attendance. Maybe that's why it seems so similar to high school for me; it's just something I have to do. It's a place I have to be, in class at 8 every morning.

There was a general milling around when I reached Professor Hicken's class. He is a small man with messy gray hair and little glasses and I would find him much more interesting if it were 11 o' clock. I stumbled in, not really avoiding eye contact with Juliana but more of not making eye contact with anything above ankle level. Another nice thing about college is the non local kids but this didn't help me today because there was no hushed silence when someone leaned over me. Silence would've given me a warning that my life was about to change.

"My cousin wants to ban Marcus from all future galas."

"Won't stop him." I groaned. The cousin she mentioned must be Andres the overprotective and reckless right hand man.

"My thoughts exactly. Besides, Marc always brings the most interesting people." I couldn't resist anymore, her voice was so sophisticated with a hint of playfulness. Sitting up, I saw that the playful undertones were reflected in a half smile. She didn't seem to be as affected by a late night as I was, must've stayed sober. There's not really a choice in that when you party with the Morretti boys, I had definitely been plastered early this morning. We shared a look, one of those moments where you think the other person can read your mind. We seemed to be having a lot of those lately.

"Sit." I gestured to the chair next to me, waiting for a reaction. Juliana studied me and contemplated for a few seconds before putting down her giant bag. She sat down and crossed her legs and I got a glimpse of gold at the foot of her jeans. She was wearing the shoes.

"So,"

"Jules!" she was cut off by Stephanie Cartee, a local and a Cortez supporter. The girl hero worshipped Juliana to a disgusting degree that made me happy guys don't normally ass kiss. Juli froze and though she was looking at me, she wasn't seeing me. She didn't' get up and go to her buddy, instead she stayed in the seat and kept her stiffness. Now it was in the open, Juli and I were talking and every aware brain in the class would now try and figure out why Stephanie was so shocked by it. Some would eventually come to the realization that Juliana and I never talked and they would speculate all kinds of things.

Shifting towards the girl next to me, I tried to find the right thing to say. Talking with the enemy is complex and my brain was computing at the rate of a rock. Luckily Professor Hicken came in and started the general class buzz.

"I'm not going to bite you. It's ok to relax." I swear it sounded manly and caring, not stalkerish and sarcastic. Unable to resist, I turned to face her and flat out ignored Hicken. "Why'd you really come over here?"

"I wanted to thank you for saving my shoes." She stuck out a foot to display those shoes. "I was also going to tell you that if you want to come to more of our parties, dancing with me isn't the best way to avoid detection." Juli had softened a bit as Hicken turned off the lights to use the projector, despite the constant stare of Stephanie. As the class came to an end, Hicken passed out a new sheet and began talking about a partnered project.

"This paper will extend over out time in London when we visit the original stages of Shakespeare. If you so choose to begin work while abroad, you may turn in your paper early and be relieved of class for the next few weeks upon return. Your partners have already been chosen by you, it's the person you're sharing a table with today." My god, when was my life kidnapped by a 12 year old girl?

"See you later, partner."

I skipped the rest of my classes to go do something stupid. Marc and Benny were more than happy to oblige and we went to the shooting range. Benny never failed to look like a stupid white boy as he tried to shoot one handed, like a thug. And while he looked incredibly stupid it worked for him because Benny is destined to be a glorified flunky. Yes, he's higher up and can be responsible for some things but his highest goal has been reached: to be a body guard. It's no coincidence that he's always around and we've both known it forever. And the best I can do is not screw up hugely and die while he's in charge of me.

Marc lounges behind both of us, commenting freely on the people at the range. He knows how to shoot but is above doing so here. He loves to criticize my aim, knowing it will just piss me off and make me better. I know he's going to choke laughing when I tell him about my assignment, might as well do it when I'm armed and he's not.

"So today, I was given this partner project on Romeo and Juliet."

"Man, Shakespeare sucks?" Benny asserted intelligently. "I would kill myself if I had to take that class." Marc didn't say anything, knowing a punch line was coming and it would explain our morning jaunt to the firing range.

"Know any good study places in no man's land?"

"Holy shit man, that is some serious irony." Marc states with a huge grin. "I mean, fighting families, names, random fights, the massive amounts of sexual tension."

"You're going to fail your project." My cousin said. I had a feeling he might be right.

"Well, I think you should go for the hate sex. It might get you to loosen up a little." I flicked him off and turned back to the target. Not quite as bad as I was expecting. I fired five shots; they clustered around the heart and head. Not bad at all.