Wicked Sexy Liar: Chapter 1


London

THERE ARE A number of things that happen when you haven’t had sex in a while: You inadvertently emit a sound during the kissing scenes in romantic movies—a noise that falls somewhere between a snort and an audible eye roll and which almost always elicits a pillow being lobbed at you from the other end of the couch. You can name at least three online adult toy stores from memory, accurately quoting their shipping rates, reliability, and speed. At least two of these stores auto-fill after only a single letter is typed into the URL bar, and you are always the roommate expected to replace the batteries on the remote control, hand vacuum, and flashlights.

Which is ridiculous when you think about it because everyone knows the best sex toys are corded or rechargeable. Amateurs.

You become good at masturbating, too. Like, really good, Olympic sport good. And by that point, having sex with yourself is the only option because how can any man possibly hope to compete with your own hand or a vibrator with 120 volts and seventeen variable speed settings?

The side effects of a less-than-social vagina are particularly noticeable when you’re constantly surrounded by three of the most disgustingly happy couples around. My roommate, Lola, and her two best friends, Harlow and Mia, met their significant others in a totally insane, it-never-happens-in-real-life weekend of debauchery in Las Vegas. Mia and Ansel are married and barely come up for air. Harlow and Finn seem to have mastered sex via eye contact. And Lola and her boyfriend, Oliver, are at that stage in a new relationship where touching is constant and sex seems to happen almost spontaneously. Cooking turns into sex. Watching The Walking Dead? Obviously arousing. Time for sex. Sometimes they’ll just walk in the door, chatting casually, and then stop, look at each other, and here we go again.

TMI alert? Oliver is loud, and I had no idea the c-word was used quite so readily in Australia. It’s a good thing I love them both so much.

And Lord, I do. I met Lola in the art program at UCSD, and although we didn’t really start hanging out regularly until she moved in as my roommate last summer, I feel like I’ve known her my entire life.

Hearing her feet dragging down the hall, I smile. She emerges, hair a mess and face still flushed.

“Oliver just left,” I tell her around a spoonful of Raisin Bran. He’d stumbled out less than ten minutes ago, sporting a dazed grin and a similar level of dishevelment. “I gave him a high five and a bottle of Gatorade for the road because he has to be dehydrated after all that. Seriously, Lola, I’m impressed.”

I wouldn’t have thought it possible for Lola’s cheeks to get any pinker. I would have lost that bet.

“Sorry,” she says, offering me a sheepish smile from behind the cupboard door. “You’ve got to be sick to death of us, but I’m about to leave for L.A. and—”

“You are not apologizing because you’ve got a gorgeous, sweet Australian guy banging you senseless,” I tell her, and stand to rinse out my bowl. “I’d give you more shit if you weren’t hitting that daily.”

“Sometimes it feels like driving all the way to his place takes forever.” Lola closes the cupboard door and stares off, contemplating. “That is insane. We are insane.”

“I tried to convince him to stay,” I tell her. “I’m leaving for the day and have work tonight. You two could have had the place to yourselves.”

“You’re working again tonight?” Lola fills her glass and props a hip against the counter. “You’ve closed every night this week.”

I shrug. “Fred needed someone and the extra hours don’t hurt.” I dry my bowl and reach to put it away. “Don’t you have panels to finish, anyway?”

“I do, but I’d love to hang out . . . You’re always at the beach or working a—”

“And you’ve got a fuckhot boyfriend and a blazing career,” I say. Lola is probably the busiest person I know. When she isn’t editing her new graphic novel, Junebug, or visiting the set for the film adaptation of her first book, Razor Fish, she’s jetting off to L.A. or New York or wherever the studio and her publisher want her. “I knew you were working today and would probably spend the night with Oliver.” Squeezing her shoulder, I add, “Besides, what else is there to do on a beautiful day like this but surf?”

She grins at me over the rim of her cup. “I don’t know . . . maybe go out on a date?”

I snort as I shut the cupboard door. “You’re cute.”

“London,” she says, pinning me with a serious expression.

“Lola,” I volley back.

“Oliver mentioned he has a friend coming in from home, maybe we could all get together.” She looks down, feigning fascination with something on her fingernail. “See a movie or something?”

“No setups,” I say. “My darling of darlings, we’ve had this conversation at least ten times.”

Lola smiles sheepishly again and I laugh, turning to walk out of the kitchen. But she’s there, hot on my heels.

“You can’t fault me for worrying about you a little,” she says. “You’re alone all the time and—”

I wave a flippant hand. “Alone is not the same as lonely.” Because as appealing as the idea of sex with an actual person is, the drama that inevitably comes along with it is not. I’ve got enough on my social plate trying to keep up with Lola and her tight-knit and ever-expanding group of friends and their significant others. I’m barely past the Learning Their Last Names stage. “Stop channeling Harlow.”

Lola frowns as I lean forward to kiss her cheek.

“You don’t have to worry about me,” I tell her, then check the time. “Gotta go, mid-tide in twenty.”


AFTER A LONG day on the water, I step behind the counter of Fred’s—the place nearly everyone lovingly calls “the Regal Beagle” due to the name of its owner, Fred Furley—and tie an apron around my waist.

The tip jar is just over half-full, which means it’s been pretty steady, but not so crazy that Fred will have to call in an extra hand. There’s a couple talking quietly at one end of the bar, half-empty wineglasses in front of them. They’re deep in conversation and barely look up when I step into view; they won’t need much. Four older women sit at the other end. Nice clothes, I notice, even nicer handbags. They’re laughing and possibly here to celebrate something, which means they’ll probably be entertaining and great tippers. I make a mental note to check on them in a few minutes.

Raucous laughter and the sound of cheering draw my attention toward the back, and I spot Fred delivering beers to a group of guys circled around the pool table. Satisfied he’s got them covered, I begin checking inventory.

I’ve only been at Fred’s about a month, but it’s a bar like any other and the routine has been easy enough to pick up. It has stained glass lights, warm wood, and round leather booths, and is a lot less seedy than the dance club where I worked my last two years of college. Still, it has its share of creeps, an inevitable drawback to this kind of job. It’s not that I’m particularly attractive, or even the best-looking woman in the place, but there’s something about seeing a female on this side of the counter that sometimes leads even the most well-intentioned men to forget their manners. With no barback here, I have to do a lot of the running and prep myself, but Fred is a great boss and fun to joke around with. He’s also better at spotting the creeps than I am.

Which is why he’s dealing with the guys in the back, and I am not.

I’m pretty particular when it comes to setup, and start my shift by arranging everything behind the bar exactly the way I like: ticket spike, knife, peeler, muddler, juice press, Y peeler, channel knife, julep strainer, bar spoons, mixing glass. Mise en place—everything in its place.

I’m about to start cutting fruit when a customer leans over the counter and asks for two White Russians, one with ice, one without. I nod, lifting two clean glasses from the rack, when Fred steps behind me.

“Let me know if those kids give you any trouble,” he says, and nods to the pool table group, which is currently whooping about something boy-related in the back.

They seem pretty typical for the UCSD guys who come in here: tall, fit, tan. A few are wearing graphic tees and others wear collared shirts. I study them in tiny flickers of attention as I mix the drinks, taking an educated guess from their height, physique, and tans that they’re water polo players.

One of them, with dark hair and a jaw you could probably have sex with, looks up just as I do, and our eyes snag. He’s good-looking—though to be fair, they’re all pretty good-looking—but there’s something about this guy that makes me do a double take and hold his gaze for the space of a breath, not quite ready to let it go. Unfortunately, he’s gorgeous in that unattainable, brooding douchebag sort of way.

With that reminder of the past, I immediately disengage.

I turn back to Fred and pull a second glass jar labeled CAR FUND from under the counter and place it in front of him. “I think we both know you don’t have to worry about me,” I say, and he smiles, shaking his head at the jar as he finishes his pours. “So is it just the two of us tonight?”

“Think so,” he says, and slides the beers onto the bar. “There aren’t any big games this weekend. Expect it’ll be steady, but slow. Maybe we’ll have a chance to get through some inventory.”

I nod as I finish the drinks and ring them up before washing my hands and checking my station for anything else I’ll need. A throat clears behind me and I turn, finding myself now only a foot away from the eyes that were all the way across the room only seconds before.

“What can I get you?” I ask, and it’s polite enough, delivered with what I know to be a friendly-but-professional smile. His eyes narrow and even though I don’t track them moving down my body in any perceptible way, I get the feeling he’s already checked me out, made up his mind, and filed me away in the same way all men categorize women: fuckable, or not. From my experience, there isn’t a whole lot of in-between.

“Can I get another round, please?” he says, and motions vaguely over his shoulder. His phone vibrates in his hand and he glances down at it, tapping out a quick message before returning his attention to me.

I pull out a tray. I don’t know what they’d ordered since Fred brought them their first round, but I can easily guess.

“Heineken?” I ask.

His eyes narrow in playful insult, and it makes me laugh.

“Okay, not Heineken,” I say, holding up my hands in apology. “What were you drinking?”

Now that I really look, he’s even prettier up close: brown eyes framed with the kind of lashes mascara companies charge a fortune for and dark hair that looks so soft and thick I just know it would feel amazing to dig my fingers—

But I assume he knows this, and the confidence I noticed from across the room practically saturates the air. His phone buzzes again, but he gives it only the briefest glance down and silences it. “Why would you assume Heineken?” he asks.

I stack a handful of coasters on the tray and shrug again, trying to nip the conversation in the bud. “No reason.”

He’s not buying it. The corner of his mouth turns up a little and he says, “Come on, Dimples.”

At almost the same time, I hear Fred’s “Goddammit” and hold out my hand, ready when he slaps a crisp dollar bill into it. I smugly tuck it into the jar.

The guy follows my movement and blinks back up at me. “ ‘Car Fund’?” he asks, reading the label. “What’s that about?”

“It’s nothing,” I tell him, and then wave to the line of draft beers. “What were you guys drinking?”

“You just made a buck off of something I said and you’re not even going to tell me what it was?”

I tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear and give in when I realize he isn’t going to order until I’ve answered him. “It’s just something I hear a lot,” I say. In fact, it’s probably something I’ve heard more than my own name. Deep dimples dent each of my cheeks, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say they’re both my most and least favorite feature. Couple that with ­sun-streaked—often wind-blown—hair and a smattering of freckles, and I’m about as Girl Next Door as they come.

“Fred didn’t believe it happens as often as I said,” I continue, jerking my thumb over my shoulder. “So we made a little bet: a dollar every time someone calls me Dimples, or references said dimples. I’m going to buy a car.”

“Next week at this rate,” Fred complains from somewhere behind me.

Dudebro’s phone chirps again, but this time he doesn’t check it, doesn’t even look down. Instead, he tucks it into the back pocket of his jeans, glances from Fred to me again, and grins.

And I might actually need a moment.

If I thought this guy was pretty before, it has nothing on the way his entire face changes when he smiles. A light has been switched on behind his eyes, and every trace of arrogance seems to just . . . evaporate. His skin is clear and tan—it practically glows with a warmth that seems to radiate out, coloring his cheeks. The sharpness of his features soften; his eyes crinkle a little at the corners. I know it’s just a smile but it’s like I can’t decide which part I like more: the full lips; white, perfect teeth; or how one side of his mouth lifts just a fraction higher than the other. He makes me want to smile back.

He spins a coaster on the bar top in front of him and continues to grin up at me. “So you’re calling me unoriginal,” he says.

“I’m not calling you anything,” I tell him, matching his grin. “But I appreciate that it seems to be true, because I am raking in the cash.”

He considers my cheeks for a moment. “They are pretty great dimples. I can imagine a lot of worse things to be known for. Nobody’s calling you Peg Leg or the Bearded Lady.”

No way is this guy trying to be cute. “So back to your beer,” I say. “Bottle or draft?”

“I want to know why you assumed I’d order Heineken. I think my wounded pride deserves at least that much.”

I glance over his shoulder, to where his friends are ostensibly playing pool but currently attempting to hit each other in the balls with their cue sticks, and decide to be honest.

“Typically—and by ‘typically,’ I really mean ‘always’—Heineken drinkers tend to be big with the self-esteem and suck with the modesty. They’re also the first person to need the bathroom when the check comes and a third more likely to drive sports cars.”

The guy nods, laughing. “I see. And this is a scientific study?”

His laugh is even sweet. It’s goofy in the way his shoulders rise just a tiny bit as if he’s a giggler.

“Rigorous,” I tell him. “I performed the clinical trials myself.”

I can see him biting back a broader laugh. “Then you’ll be comforted to know that I was in fact not ordering Heineken, and was actually going to ask what you had on tap because we just had a round of Stella, and I wanted something more interesting.”

Without looking down at the row of draft beers, I list, “Bud, Stone IPA, Pliny the Elder, Guinness, Allagash White, and Green Flash.”

“We’ll go with the Pliny,” he says, and I try to hide how much this surprises me—an occupational necessity. He must know his beers because it’s the best choice there. “Six of them, please. I’m Luke, by the way. Luke Sutter.”

He holds out his hand and after only a moment of hesitation, I take it.

“Nice to meet you, Luke.”

His hand is huge, not too soft . . . and really nice. With long fingers, clean nails, and a strong grip. I pull my own hand back almost immediately and begin pouring his beers.

“And your name is . . .” he asks, the last word stretching into a question.

“That’ll be thirty dollars,” I tell him instead.

Luke’s smile twists a little, amused, and he looks down at his wallet, pulling two twenties out and placing them on top of the bar. He reaches for the first three glasses and nods to me before he turns. “I’ll be back to get the rest,” he says. And he’s gone.

The door opens and a bachelorette party files in. Over the next three hours I make more pink drinks and sexually explicit cocktails than I can count, and whether it’s Luke or one of the other guys who ends up grabbing the rest of their beers, I don’t notice. Which is just as well, I remind myself, because if there’s one rule I’ve made that I stick to hard and fast, it’s that I don’t date guys I meet at work. Ever.

And Luke is . . . well, he’s a reflection of every reason rule number one exists in the first place.


WHEN THE LAST customer has left, I help Fred close up, drive home to an empty apartment, and tumble into bed.

My parents are less than thrilled with the life I’ve built in San Diego, and are careful to remind me of this at every visit. They don’t understand why I took a roommate when Nana left me the loft, free and clear. Although I spent much of my childhood here, they also don’t understand why I didn’t just sell the loft after graduation and move right back home—which, come on. Freezing Colorado over sunny San Diego? I don’t think so. And they definitely don’t agree with my surfing all day and tending bar at night when the graphic arts degree I busted my ass for is sitting around, gathering dust.

And okay, I’ll give them that last one.

But for now, I’m fine with my life. Lola worries that I’m alone too much—and I am alone a lot of the time, but I’m never unhappy. Bartending is a fun job, and surfing is bigger than that. It’s a part of me. I love watching water slowly rising and curling, seeing the tips break into these foamy, glass cylinders. I love climbing inside waves so big they tunnel me in as they crest, roaring in my ear. I love the feel of salt-water-rich air filling my mouth, dusting my lungs. Every second the ocean builds a castle and breaks it down. I will never get tired of it.

And I like falling into bed, tired because I’ve surfed my ass off all day and been on my feet all night, and not because I’ve been sitting at a desk, staring at a computer.

For now, life is pretty good.

 

BUT AT THE start of my shift at Fred’s Saturday night, I feel both wrecked and antsy: my ribs hurt and I still have the sensation of coughing up a lungful of salt water.

Some days the ocean cooperates and the waves come right to me. Today was not one of those days. The swells were decent at first, but I couldn’t seem to hit a single one. I took off early or popped up late. I lost count of how many times I fell or was knocked flat on my ass. I spent every holiday of my life precollege at my grandmother’s, and I’ve surfed Black’s Beach and Windansea since I was old enough to carry my own board. But the longer I stayed out there today the more frustrated I got, and the last straw came when I was surprised by a big wave, and rolled . . . hard.

The guy with the hair and the smile is back. Luke, I remember, in some sort of breathy echo. He’s at a booth tonight with more of his friends, but I spot him as soon as I walk in.

The place is packed and I feel a brief pulse of longing when I hear Harlow’s laugh rise above the music. I’d rather be sitting with them than working tonight, and so I have a noticeable chip on my shoulder by the time I step behind the counter and slip my apron over my shirt.

“Someone’s having a bad day,” Fred says, putting the finishing touches on a tray of margaritas. “Weren’t you the one who told me the worst day on the water still beats the best day anywhere else?”

Ugh. I did tell him that. Why do people always remind you of your best parts when you’re having a bad day? “Just sore and cranky,” I say, trying to smile. “I’ll get over it.”

“Well, you’re in the right place. Loud drunk people are always the right thing for a bad mood.”

This pulls my reluctant grin free, and Fred reaches forward, gently chucking my chin.

A row of tickets sit on the counter and I reach for one. Two martinis, dirty, extra olives. I place two glasses on a tray, fill a shaker with ice, pour in vermouth and four ounces of gin, a little olive juice. I fall into the rhythm of the work: measuring, shaking, pouring, serving . . . and the familiar movements relax me, they do.

But I still feel restless with the breathlessness, the few terrifying seconds I thought I might not be able to fight my way up from the tide. It’s happened to me a handful of times, and even though logically I know I’ll be okay, it’s hard to shake the lingering sense of drowning.

Luke moves in my peripheral vision, and I glance up as he walks around the back of the booth, typing on his phone. So he’s one of those, I think, imagining how many girls he’s texting right now. There’s a brunette at their table who seems pretty interested in what he’s doing, and I’m tempted to walk over to her under the guise of serving drinks and tell her to cut her losses: invest in one of the kind nerds in the far booth instead.

I shake and pour the cloudy liquid into the glasses, rereading the ticket again before adding two skewers packed with olives. The waitress smiles and leaves with the order, and I move to the next, reaching for a bottle of amaretto when I hear a barstool scrape across the floor behind me.

“So how’s the car fund?”

I recognize his voice immediately. “Nothing today,” I tell him without looking up, finishing the drink. “But I’m not really in a smiling mood, so I’m not holding out much hope.”

“Want to talk about that?” he asks.

I turn to look at him: this time wearing a dark blue T-shirt, same perfect hair, and still entirely too good-looking not to be trouble. Unable to resist, I give him a tiny smile. “I think that’s supposed to be my line.”

Luke acknowledges this with a cute flick of one eyebrow skyward before glancing back at his group.

“Besides, it looks like you’ve got some people waiting for you,” I say, noting the way the brunette’s eyes track his every move. He reaches into his pocket, checks his phone, and looks back at me.

“They’re not going anywhere,” he says, and his eyes smile a split second before his lips make that soft, crooked curve. “Figured I’d come up here and get myself a drink.”

“What can I get you?” I ask. “Another beer?”

“Sure,” he says. “And your name. Unless you want me to keep calling you Dimples for the rest of our lives.”

Luke’s eyes widen playfully as he whispers a deliberate “Oops” at this, and produces a dollar bill from his pocket, slipping it into the jar. “I came prepared tonight,” he says, watching me pour an IPA into a pint glass. “Just in case you were working again.”

I try not to linger on the thought that he specifically brought a pocketful of singles with him for me and this little game.

“It’s Lon—” I start to say, just as the bar door opens and Mia walks in with Ansel behind her. Luke’s head turns toward them just as I finish with a mumbled “—don.”

After a beat, he looks back up at me, eyes oddly tight. He nods quickly. “Nice to officially meet you.”

I’m pretty sure he didn’t get my name, but if he’s fine not knowing it, I’m fine not repeating it.

Another customer sits at the bar and waves to get my attention. I slide Luke’s beer over to him and smile as he looks up, the coaster touching the edge of his hand. “That’s five dollars.”

Blinking at me slowly, he says, “Thanks,” and pulls out his wallet.

I move to help the new customer, but out of the corner of my eye, I see Luke slap a bill down on the bar and return to his friends without waiting for change. Either he didn’t leave a tip, or he left a big one.

Unfortunately for my determination to find him douchey, I’m pretty sure I can guess which.

Two whiskey sours, four Blue Moons, and a pitcher of margaritas later, I’m at the register. Mia, Ansel, and Harlow are standing nearby, waiting for Finn before they all head out to a movie. I watch them for the span of three deep breaths, struggling for what feels like an eternity over my relationship ambivalence. On the one hand, I see the people around me so happy—some of them even married—and I want that. On the other hand, I know I’m not ready.

It’s been just over a year since Justin and I ended things, and I still remember what it’s like to be paired off like that, where all plans have to be created with another person in mind, and then decided on again in a group of friends like this. I’m sure most people wouldn’t believe me, but after busting my ass in school and dating the same boy throughout, it’s nice not to have to do anything. I surf, I work, I go home. I make all my decisions based on what’s good for me as a person, rather than one-half of a couple.

Still, there are times like tonight where I realize it can be lonely, actually, and it’s not just about sex but about companionship and having someone who looks at me like he’s waited all day for it. It’s about having someone there to distract me with movies or conversation or a warm body to help me fall asleep.

The register clangs as I push the cash drawer closed and hand a guy his change. I lift my head in the direction of Harlow’s laughter, and am surprised to see Luke and Mia now standing near the bathrooms, talking.

We all attended UCSD, so even though there are several schools within the university, it doesn’t surprise me that they might know each other. Still, it makes me laugh a little inside because I will constantly feel like there are so many details to be plugged into my working map of Lola’s friends.

I knew Harlow had famous parents, but only recently put it together that her mother was my mom’s favorite actress when I was little.

I knew Mia used to dance, but only recently learned that her trajectory was ruined when she was hit by a truck.

I knew Finn was close to his father and two brothers, but didn’t know until I put my foot in it and asked him what he was doing for Mother’s Day that his mom died when he was a kid.

My name is called from down the bar, and I blink back into focus. I run a tray of drinks out to a table and Harlow grabs me on my way back, pulling me into a fierce hug.

“Hey, stranger,” she says, her eyes moving over my face before she reaches for a strand of my hair. “Feels like ages since I’ve seen you. Think you could put some sunblock on and leave some cute for the rest of us? Jesus, you look like an ad for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, surfer girl. Fuck you and your adorable freckles.”

I give her a wide smile. “I should take you with me everywhere, Ego Boost.”

“Can you cut out and see a movie with us tonight?” she asks.

I shake my head and her lips turn down into a pout. “It’s just me, Fred, and one waitress here, and that new band is coming in later,” I explain.

“Maybe this weekend? All three Roberts boys are in town.”

I nod, perking up at the idea of a fun night out with a big group. “I’ll check my schedule.” Her husband, Finn, formerly a commercial fisherman, is now about to become television’s hottest reality star on The Fisher Men, a show featuring Finn, his father, and his two younger brothers out on the water.

Harlow’s eyebrows slowly rise and I realize my mistake. I may have only known Harlow for about nine months, but her meddling skills are legendary.

“Maybe we can get you and Levi—”

I’m already looking for an exit. “Nope. Nope,” I tell her, and glance up at the bar to see a few people waiting for service. “I need to get back, Miss Matchmaker, but I’ll text you tomorrow and let you know if I can make it.”

Harlow nods before turning toward her table. “All right, you stubborn shit!” she calls out as I head back.

When I get there, I see Fred pouring some beers, talking with some regulars. Just down the bar, sitting alone, is Luke.

He looks . . . well, he looks upset, with a serious expression I don’t imagine he wears often. Granted, I know next to nothing about this guy except that he has girls constantly watching him, looks like a total douchebag, yet sort of isn’t when you actually get him talking, and gets more texts in a single night than I do in a week. But what do I know.

I glance over to where Mia, Ansel, and Harlow are gathering their things and wave as they head toward Finn, standing near the exit.

“You okay there?” I say to Luke, pulling a shot glass from below the counter.

He nods, and as soon as he looks up at me, the serious face is gone, replaced again by the cute smile. On instinct, I look away, digging into the icebox with a small shovel.

“Just spacing out and thinking too much,” he says. “A bar seems like a good place to do that.”

I nod. And because he seems to be waiting for me to say something more, I do. “Best place to mull things over. Bad grades. Lost job. Money problems. First loves.”

His eyes catch mine again. “Speaking from experience?” he asks.

“Yeah,” I say, pouring him a shot of whiskey and sliding it across the counter. Even with the smile, he looks like he could use it. “Bartender experience. Maybe you just need a distraction.” I look over his shoulder to where his group of friends is sitting, along with the brunette whose eyes still track him every­where. He follows my gaze and then turns back with a little shake of his head.

Luke lifts the shot, tilting his head back and swallowing it in one go. He sets the glass on the bar top and exhales, coughing a little. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

“What about you?” he asks.

I move to the sink to set the glass inside. “What about me what?”

“Are you in need of a distraction?”

Inside, something sharp recoils into my lungs, but I manage a friendly smile. “I’m good.”

Luke dips his head, looking up at me through his lashes as he asks, “What does that mean, you’re ‘good’?”

I pick up a bar towel, looking down at it as I tell him, “It means I don’t date guys I meet at work.”

“I’m not asking you to go steady, Dimples.” With a sneaky smile, he reaches into his pocket and pulls out another dollar, tucking it away inside the jar. His eyes meet mine and something tightens between my ribs and belly button. His look is knowing, as if he can see that I had a shitty day, and I see he’s having a shitty night, and he likes that we both see these things.

I don’t like having this chemistry with him, don’t like the wordless connection.

Or maybe I don’t like how much I like it. I still have that choking-breathless feel from this morning, but it loosens ­inexplicably the longer he’s here, talking to me.

“Speaking of,” he says quietly, “I haven’t seen much of those dimples tonight.”

Shrugging, I say, “Let’s just say it’s been a day.”

He leans both elbows on the bar, studying me. “Sounds like you could blow off some steam, too.”

I laugh at this, unable to resist admitting, “Probably true.”

Reaching for a coaster, he spins it slowly in front of him. “Maybe someone could help you out with that.”

I ignore him and start wiping down the bar. It isn’t the first time I’ve been propositioned at work, not by a long shot. But it’s the first time I’m tempted to accept, because inside, I’m thrumming as I imagine what he’s offering.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” he asks, undeterred, and I shake my head.

“No,” I tell him. If the way his arms look in that T-shirt is any indication, I bet he looks fantastic naked.

I bet he knows he does, too.

It’s a sign that it’s been way too long since I’ve had sex if I’m even having this conversation with myself. The last thing I need in my life is a guy like Luke. I take a sharp breath and get some physical distance, stepping away a little.

Following me with his eyes, he asks, “So is this no-dating-guys-you-meet-at-work thing, like, an actual rule?”

“Sort of.” I fold the bar towel and tuck it into the back of my apron, meeting his eyes.

“What if I promised I was absolutely worth it?”

Why do I think he is absolutely telling the truth? He smiles shyly, but behind his honey-brown eyes, I can see he’s still hunting.

“I’m sure you’re amazing.” I lean back against the sink, staring him down and shocked that I’m even still standing here. “But I don’t even remember your name.”

“Yes, you do.” He leans forward, crossing his arms on the glossy wood.

I bite back a smile.

“What time do you get off tonight?” he asks.

I can’t help but look at his mouth and imagine how it would feel moving, hot and open, down my neck, my breasts, over my ribs.

It occurs to me that if one wanted to break a losing streak, one would go with a sure thing, right? Who better to bust me out of my sex drought than someone who clearly knows what he’s doing? And someone who wouldn’t need it to mean anything?

A few beats of silence pass between us before I straighten, reaching for a ticket one of the waitresses sets down next to me. It’s now or never.

“I get off at one.”


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