The Pucking Wrong Number: Chapter 7

MONROE

I headed down the street to the restaurant where my study group was supposed to be meeting. I didn’t plan on getting anything; heavens knew I couldn’t afford to eat out right now, but the rest of the group had insisted we get together at this place.

And frankly…I was too exhausted to argue about it.

Last night’s job with the catering company hadn’t wrapped up until one AM. Tuesdays were usually when I was able to catch up on a little bit of sleep since I didn’t have class, but that had all gone out the window when I hadn’t gotten into bed until after two, only to be up at six thirty to drag myself to Tres Medical.

I’d stay for a couple of hours, keep my head down and work hard, and whatever we got done, we got done.

I walked into the trendy restaurant, suddenly very aware of the simple jeans and T-shirt I was wearing. This was the kind of place that you dressed up for, and I wondered why the group thought it would be a good place to get anything done.

I glanced around, trying to spot anyone from the group.

‘Monroe!’ a familiar voice called out from my left.

I glanced over to see Connor, one of the guys in the group, getting up from a table and striding towards me.

‘Hey,’ I said cautiously, peering around him to see if I could see anyone else. ‘Is anyone here yet?’

‘Nope, you’re the first to arrive,’ he responded with a charming smile, gesturing towards the table. I followed him and slid onto the bench seating. Connor sat across from me, and a second later, the waitress was at our table, dressed in a skintight, blood red, Dominatrix type outfit. ‘Can I get you anything to drink?’

‘A Guinness for me,’ Connor said, and I shifted in my seat. The project we were working on was complex, and it didn’t seem like a great idea to drink while we tried to put it together…but being here in general didn’t seem like a great idea, so I guess who gave a fuck.

The waitress glanced at me expectantly. ‘And you?’

‘Just a water, please,’ I answered quietly. Her fake grin dropped, and she strode away, obviously annoyed I hadn’t ordered anything that would reflect on her tip money.

‘Sure you don’t want a glass of wine or something like that?’ Connor asked, his gaze sitting heavily on my face.

I brushed away the flicker of unease curling across my chest. Connor had never given me anything to worry about. He was a pretty good-looking guy, with his caramel colored hair and dark brown eyes, but I’d never been interested, and he’d never attempted to flirt with me.

I glanced away, staring out at the dimly lit bar like I was actually interested in it. ‘I’m good. Work starts early, tomorrow.’

His eyes flashed in disappointment, but he nodded. “It’s been a ridiculous semester, hasn’t it? I swear I get anxiety just entering the classroom.’

I smiled and nodded, relaxing a little. I could talk about school and be normal for a little while.

The waitress sat our drinks down. ‘Have you decided what you want to eat, or do you need a little more time?’

I opened my mouth to tell her we weren’t actually ordering anything, but Connor spoke before I could. ‘A few more minutes, please,’ he said, casting her a smug grin.

As she walked away, I checked the group text on my phone to see if anyone else had said they were here. The chat was completely silent, unfortunately.

‘I heard this place is really great. You should look over the menu. You gotta be hungry. It’ll be my treat.’

Oh.

‘Do you think we should wait for the others, at least?’

It was terrible of me, but I was probably going to take up his offer of a free meal. I was starving, and sick of Ramen packets. And everything on the menu looked amazing.

Guilt slid over me, a memory of my mother floating through my mind. Of what she’d done to get things from men.

Of how they’d left her.

I pushed the memories out of my head. It wasn’t like that. This was just my friend offering to pay for a meal. It didn’t mean anything.

It didn’t mean I was like her.

The waitress came back, and I asked for the burger.

‘Do you like steak? You should get it.’

A blush hit my cheeks. The steak was the most expensive thing on the menu.

‘You really should get the steak. It’s the best thing here,’ the waitress offered unhelpfully.

I closed the menu and slid it forward. ‘All right, I’ll have that.’

She walked away, satisfied with the upsell, and Connor and I engaged in a little bit of small talk about other classes we were taking. The conversation was probably the longest I’d ever had with him, and through it all, he stared at me so interestedly.

It was weirding me out.

‘Should we call the others?’ I asked. I glanced down at my phone and realized that the two other girls in the group were forty-five minutes late.

Connor pulled his phone out. ‘Oh, they both texted. I guess they were driving together but they couldn’t make it. Bummer,’ he said, not actually sounding bummed at all as he slid the phone back into his pocket. ‘But that’s okay. We can still work on the project.” He slid his hand forward and grabbed mine. ‘And I’ve been wanting to get to know you better.’

Fuck, this was a date. He’d conned me into a fucking date.

My stomach chose that moment to rumble. And fuck, I was going to stay here because I really wanted that steak.

‘Excuse me for a minute, I need to use the restroom,’ I told him, sliding out of the bench seat, and heading towards them before he could say anything else.

My phone buzzed just then, and I pulled it out, blindly hoping that maybe it was one of the girls in the study group saying she was making it after all.

A small smile hit my lips when I saw that it was Lincoln. He’d finally given me his first name two days ago, excluding his last name, of course. And although I thought this would fizzle out, here we were, six days after that first text, still messaging throughout the day.

I think I broke my back lifting today, the text read.

Poor baby. Well, I got tricked into going on a date, so I might win.

His text was instantaneous. You’re on a date?

I used the restroom and washed my hands before answering him.

I was tricked into a date, I corrected him. Doesn’t count. We were supposed to meet here for a study group, and weirdly, the other two didn’t show up…

Lincoln: Why don’t you leave?

Because I’m hungry and he convinced me to order a steak…and that sounds much better than the Top Ramen I’ve got waiting for me at home. Plus, I can maybe get some of the project done.

I can send you a steak, Lincoln texted back.

Again, a lot of times I found text messages to be unhelpful when reading people’s emotions, but Lincoln sounded almost…jealous.

I rolled my eyes and texted back what I always texted when he said something ridiculous.

You shouldn’t offer money to strangers. I think I’ve told you this before.

Lincoln: We’re not strangers, remember? I’m your best friend.

I chuckled and slid my phone back into my pocket as I returned to the table.

‘I don’t think I’ve ever seen you smile like that before,” Connor commented.

I blushed, my smile slipping away. ‘I think I’m too tired for that most of the time…should we start working on the project while we wait for the food?’

‘No, the project can wait. I’d love to get to know you better,’ he said.

I nodded, trying not to look like I hated everything about this night, and decided I’d give it a few minutes before forcing us to work on the project.

‘Are you from Texas originally?’ he asked.

‘The Houston area, but yes.’

Before he could ask what brought me to Dallas, I began to pepper him with questions. It was a skill I’d learned. People usually enjoyed talking about themselves, and if you asked them the right questions, you could avoid talking almost entirely.

As he told me a story about playing for his high school baseball team, I pulled my phone out from my purse, keeping it under the table as I read the text that had come in from Lincoln.

Lincoln: I think you should just leave. Fuck this guy.

‘Everything okay?” Connor asked, annoyance etched on his face.

I forced out a smile. ‘Yes, sorry. I’m expecting a text about work and wanted to check if it came through yet. I could use the night off tomorrow.”

He seemed to buy what I said and continued talking about himself. I learned about his major in accounting and his love for golf, both equally boring topics.

The waitress arrived with the meal, and I stared at my plate excitedly as she walked away.

I’d taken my first bite, however, when the waitress returned to the table, her ruby red lips curled into a frown.

‘I’m so sorry, but the restaurant is closing for the night.”

Connor stared around the room at the patrons, who had suddenly started leaving, his face completely bewildered.

‘What do you mean it’s closing? Isn’t this place open until three in the morning? It’s barely seven.’

The waitress gave him a tight, annoyed smile. ‘I’m sorry, sir, but we’re asking everyone to leave. Here are some boxes for your food, and then if you could please follow everyone else out, dinner’s on the house tonight.’ She walked away without a glance back, and my insides were doing excited cartwheels. Whatever had happened, I’d gotten a meal for free that I didn’t need to feel guilty about. I could now end the night without feeling like I needed to undergo more awkward conversation.

The situation called for a fist pump.

I boxed up my steak while Connor sulked across from me, finally throwing his food in his container when we were almost the last ones left in the place. Fed up with how slow he was going, I slid out from the table and he reluctantly followed me. I gritted my teeth as his hand went to the small of my back as he led me towards the exit.

‘How about we go back to my place and we can work on the project?’ he suggested, an undertone in his voice I wanted nothing to do with.

Right. “The project.” I was sure we were going to work on it, just like I was sure the two others in our group were actually planning on showing up tonight. It was all I could do to keep in my eye roll.

‘Sorry, I need to get back…so I don’t fall asleep on the way home,” I said, my tone apologetic.

Connor’s disappointment was palpable, and he opened his mouth to argue with me, but I was already backing away.

‘But we’ll have to set up another meeting to talk about the project,” I offered.

He took a step forward, his hand settling on my waist. ‘That sounds great,’ he murmured, before shockingly brushing a kiss across my cheek.

What the fuck?

‘Okay,” I stammered, turning around and practically running down the sidewalk. I could feel his gaze boring into my back, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that he didn’t want the night to be over and he was planning on following me.

I didn’t have anyone to call for help, but my anxiety spiked as I heard footsteps behind me.

On a whim, I took out my phone and called Lincoln. We’d only exchanged text messages, but I was desperate. It rang and rang, and I’d almost given up when a sexy voice answered.

‘Monroe?’ he said, sounding breathless.

‘I’m so sorry to call. I’m just afraid that this creeper’s going to follow me home, and I wanted to talk to someone so maybe he won’t.”

‘Of course, sweetheart. I’m glad you called,’ he soothed, his voice sliding over me with a graveled husk that sent strange shockwaves across my skin, even under the circumstances. His voice was deep, with a hint of a southern accent.

‘Go ahead and glance behind you, and see if anyone’s there,’ he ordered gently, the rasp in his voice running like silk through my insides.

‘Okay,’ I squeaked, shooting a glance behind me and breathing a sigh of relief when I didn’t see anyone there.

‘I don’t see him. And why would I? I’m probably being crazy,’ I murmured.

‘I’m really glad you called. I don’t like the thought of you being scared.’

It’s amazing how much he seemed to…mean it. I got a little lost in his voice, the fear sliding away as I listened.

‘Hi, by the way,’ he said, his chuckle laced with an edgy heat. ‘We’ve officially popped our phone call cherry.’

I snorted at that, and his chuckle deepened.

Just then, footsteps sounded nearby, and my breath hitched as I glanced behind me and saw the shadow of someone coming from around the corner. I took off down the street in a light jog.

‘Monroe, are you okay?’ he asked, the levity in his voice gone. I glanced back again, only to see that it was an old woman with a bag of groceries.

‘I don’t know why I’m so spooked. I’m being ridiculous.”

‘No, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Especially after he tricked you into a date.” There was a slight bite of anger to his voice when he said the word “date.”

I huffed out an exasperated laugh. ‘Right? I mean, who does that?’

‘Desperate men do desperate things, I guess,” he murmured, darkness threaded in his words, or maybe that was my imagination based on the weird turn the night had taken.

‘Tell me a funny story to take my mind off the walk,” I asked, once again not recognizing myself with this man. It somehow made it easier, to talk to this person I couldn’t see, someone who didn’t know me, who couldn’t be disappointed with me.

‘Hmmm, a funny story…’

My heartbeat had finally calmed as I got within three blocks of home. A little longer and I’d be there.

‘Well, one time I got knocked out. They took me to the hospital and they put me in one of those hospital gowns that tie in the back. I guess when I woke up, I got out of the hospital bed, still loopy as hell, and decided that the gown was scratching me. So I stripped it off and proceeded to drag my I.V. out into the hallway, showcasing my goods to everyone in the wing before they finally got me back into my room.”

I giggled, imagining some guy streaking through the hospital wing. “I’m sure it was quite a hit with the nurses,’ I teased.

‘Oh, no doubt. I think they made up excuses to keep me at the hospital the whole week after seeing the family jewels.’

‘For sure. Especially if you had those abs back then.’

‘Nope. It was the wrinkly old balls that definitely had them going,’ he teased.

My fingertips went up to my lips, tracing the smile plastered on my mouth. In my nineteen years on this earth, my most prevalent emotion had been sadness. Even as a little girl, I hadn’t been the type to laugh with friends. I’d always had something serious to think about. And just in the brief amount of time I’d been talking to this guy—whose voice did not sound like he was a scary old man creeping on me, by the way—I was smiling constantly.

Fuck.

I got to my building, walking through the gate and breathing a sigh of relief that I was almost safe behind my door.

‘Well, I made it to my place,’ I murmured.

‘Good girl,’ he whispered back with a husky growl. And fuck. If I thought that reading those words did something to me, it was nothing compared to hearing his voice say it. It hit my insides, sending tingles between my legs, having a physical effect on me.

‘I’m going to bed,’ I told him, my voice sounding shaky and unsure.

‘Lock your door behind you,’ he ordered. I nodded my head up and down, taking a second to remember he couldn’t see me, that’s how much I felt his presence surrounding me.

‘Okay.’

I heard some voices in the background and wondered what he was doing.

‘I gotta take care of something, but you get some rest. I’m so glad you called.’

‘Thanks for picking up,’ I whispered.

‘Always,’ he answered, and even though he couldn’t have meant it, I felt like there was a promise in his words. Like he, unlike every single person who had always disappointed me in my life, was promising he wouldn’t.

‘Good night,’ I said, forcing myself to end the call because I could feel myself getting fucking attached, which was the last thing I needed to be doing.

‘Good night, dream girl,’ he said in a thickened accent.

And then the phone clicked off.

I walked into my apartment and then locked it behind me…before sliding down the wall, my hands clutching my cell phone like a lifeline.

Dream girl…

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