Wicked Sexy Liar: Chapter 7


London

I DROP MY KEYS in the bowl by the door, kicking off my shoes. They thump loudly onto the wood floor in the otherwise-­silent loft. Lola and Oliver are either at his place or asleep, but for once I’d really love someone else to be here to distract me from my foul mood.

I don’t exactly feel like playing Titanfall.

I feel sort of queasy after what happened tonight with Luke and his friends. I’m not exactly upset by his behavior the way I was when I found Justin banging someone in his bed. And I’m not disappointed to see—yet again—that Luke is exactly the guy I thought he was.

But damn, I realize I wanted to be wrong about him. That feeling—the highly unwelcome desire for him to have been ­relationship material—makes my stomach feel twisty and gross.

I inhale a couple of bowls of Lucky Charms and crawl into bed, sleeping like a stone and silencing my alarm when it tells me it’s time to hit the surf.

Instead, I wake up much later—at ten, in fact—to laughter trailing down the hall from the living room, and the deep, overlapping sounds of male voices. Without bothering to put on actual clothes, I shuffle out in my Doctor Who pajamas to greet Lola, Oliver, Ansel, and Finn with a mumbled, “Hey, guys.”

They return my greeting as I move robotically to the kitchen. Bless her heart: Lola has made coffee. I pour myself a cup and then join them, curling up on the end of the couch beside Ansel.

“Where are the other two?” I say, meaning Harlow and Mia.

“They’re meeting us at Maryjane’s in a few,” Finn says, and I look around the room, wondering if it’s just me or if ­everyone else has gone oddly still.

I also register with faint curiosity that it’s midweek, they all happen to be off work, and no one has asked me to come along.

As if realizing this, too, Lola jerks into motion, standing and walking into the kitchen to refill her coffee. “No surfing today?”

At her question, I remember with a lurch why I didn’t feel like getting up—Luke and his unfortunate friends—and shake my head. “Too wiped.”

She nods, returning to us with her mug and settling back down on the floor next to Oliver.

I sip my coffee, swallow, and ask, “What are Harlow and Mia up to?”

It seems like a completely normal question. After all, when he’s in town, Finn lives with Harlow in La Jolla, and Ansel and Mia just bought a house in Del Mar. Still, I’m met with silence.

Like, weird silence. And once again, the group’s dynamic seems to elude me.

“They had to pick up some stuff,” Oliver says, glancing quickly to Lola. “How’s working at Bliss going? Do you like it there?”

Shrugging, I tell him, “It’s pretty busy. Good tips, nice bar. I like the other bartenders. Probably not too surprising that the crowd is a bit sleazier than at Fred’s, but you know downtown . . .” I trail off, smiling at him over the top of my coffee cup.

“Luke can protect you,” Ansel chirps brightly.

I swear I almost hear the screeching of brakes rip through the room.

“Luke?” I ask.

Ansel’s smile slowly straightens as the awkwardness settles; it happens in perfect tandem with the dropping of my stomach.

His cheeks are a deep pink as he glances helplessly to Lola, then back at me. “I’m sorry. I thought you and Luke were . . .”

And suddenly, I get it. I get why Mia isn’t here. I get why they didn’t invite me to breakfast.

“We’re not,” I say quietly, letting my head fall against the back of the couch. God, this is mortifying. “We hung out a few times before I realized he and Mia . . . I mean, that’s not the only reason why we aren’t a thing; we wouldn’t be anyway.”

Panic rises in me like steam filling a room. I don’t mind the outsider feeling I’ve had occasionally with Lola’s friends—they’re all so well-intentioned and inclusive that I never feel like a seventh wheel—but I definitely, definitely do not want to fuck up with them.

Straightening again, I turn my eyes to Lola. “I was going to talk to you—”

“It’s okay,” she says quickly, speaking over me.

“—but it wasn’t serious, I swear. We aren’t together.”

Lola’s calm eyes hold mine. “It’s okay, London.”

But it’s like I can’t stop talking. “I honestly didn’t know he was Mia’s ex, and then I called her—” I look to Ansel, explaining now: “I felt really weird about it, but she seemed totally okay . . .”

Throughout all of this, Ansel shakes his head quickly, murmuring, “No, no, no,” and reassuring me, “She’s fine.”

“She is, I swear,” Lola urges, moving over to me to sit on the floor by my legs. “Honey, Mia is fine.”

But in the remaining tension, the mental calculation isn’t that difficult to make: “Harlow’s not fine, though, is she?”

The awkward silence returns, heavier this time, and I glance over at Finn.

He gives a casual wave of his hand. “She’ll get over it.”

And fuck, I do not want to be the reason a girlfriend of mine has something to get over. But at the same time, it rankles me a little that she’s white-knighting it for Mia, when, by all accounts—including her own—Mia doesn’t need it.

Maybe Lola sees this reaction cross my face, because she puts a hand on my knee. “London. It’s just what Harlow does. React first, think later.”

Finn snorts.

“We were all so close growing up,” she explains. “And when they broke up, it was weird how fast Luke sort of . . . moved on. We all got into the habit of silently disliking anyone who slept with him, like they were the ones changing him, like it wasn’t his decision.”

I look back over at her, giving her a wary smile. “That’s insane. These women aren’t black widows hunting an innocent guy. Luke is in charge of his game.”

“I know,” she says, wincing as she nods. “It’s just a habit because old Luke was so loyal and committed.” When she says this, my heart does a painful little dive. Despite everything else I’ve seen, that version of Luke isn’t very hard to imagine. “But maybe you can see why it’s weird for us? I mean, not for me,” she adds quickly. “Honestly, London, I think it’s kind of cool. It just took Mia a beat to feel that way, too, and by then she’d called Harlow—”

“Her first mistake,” Finn adds dryly.

“—and Harlow got protective,” Lola finishes with an apologetic shrug. “It’s her thing.”

“I get it,” I tell them, and I do. But although I don’t want anyone feeling like I’ve mis-stepped somehow, I also don’t want to feel like I have to defend myself for sleeping with a guy I had no way of knowing broke up with my friend over four years ago. And the overlapping way that they’re all reassuring me does nothing to quell the outsider vibe I’m getting.

“I really don’t want things to be weird,” I tell them.

“They’re not,” Lola says, and then revises: “I mean, if they are, it’s just a blip. Seriously, you wouldn’t have even known about it if you hadn’t come out here before we left this morning, because I swear Harlow will be over it in a couple of hours.”

She means this to make me feel better, but it doesn’t. I “wouldn’t have even known about it” because no one would have bothered to tell me. Like some mess of mine would have been cleaned up, negotiated away during their breakfast UN summit or something.

“Okay, cool,” I say, getting up. I move to the kitchen and rinse out my mug. “But seriously, tell me if there’s something I need to say to either of them.”

Everyone nods with sympathetic enthusiasm at this—they know how scary it can be to be on the receiving end of Harlow’s anger—but surely they can’t really imagine what it’s like to be me on the receiving end of Harlow’s anger. She doesn’t know me the same way. I might just be a temporary part of this group, after all. She might not feel the need to get over it.

Once again I curse the bum deal of having a long-term boyfriend suck up all of my social life for years and then cheat on me, leaving me isolated as hell. I have a hundred acquaintances, and few true friends. Is it me? Am I a surface skimmer, relying on a dimpled smile and small talk to make people feel at ease, to trick them into thinking they know me?

The only person I have to call and process this with is Ruby, and she’s so far away and knows this group even less well than I do. The one person around here who sometimes seems to understand me best is Not-Joe—Dylan—and I didn’t even know his actual name until a couple of weeks ago.

But that’s not entirely true: Luke seems to get me, better than I’d like to let him believe. Unfortunately, he’s flaky, has douchey friends, is a womanizer, and—after this morning’s drama?—is completely off-limits.


THE LAST RAYS of sunlight cut through the entryway to Fred’s as I open the door the next night. I haven’t worked here that long, but after a few shifts in a row at Bliss, Fred’s feels familiar, comforting. I’m glad to be back.

Fred is behind the bar when I get there, and he looks up, smiling as I near him.

“We missed you around here, kid,” he says. “The other bartenders are all scared of me. It’s not the same without someone here to give me crap.”

I laugh as I tie my apron around my waist. “I’m glad my insubordination tickles you.”

“You have fun at your fancy new place?” he asks.

“It’s fine,” I say with a shrug and a little smile, and Fred already knows me well enough to leave it at that.

I start my usual routine and check my station, jotting down the things I need to bring from the back, what needs to be refreshed. “Been busy today?” I ask.

Fred nods and leans back against the bar. “Some softball tournament is in town, so a lot of new faces. Young, too,” he adds with a grin. “Better get your jar ready.”

He isn’t kidding, and the first half of my shift goes by in a blur. By eight that night Fred has dropped seven dollar bills into the car fund and thus has started suggesting I take another couple of shifts at Bliss.

I’m on my way to the back with a pitcher of margaritas when I see Luke. He’s leaning against the pool table, hands tucked into the pocket of his dark jeans while he talks to a guy I don’t recognize. His hair is soft tonight like he hasn’t put anything in it, and it falls forward, obscuring his eyes. Of course it doesn’t block the cut of his jaw, the line of his neck where it disappears into his gray T-shirt, or the way his Adam’s apple moves as he swallows.

He’s texted me four times since the night we had sex on his couch . . . again . . . this last time less than a week ago, but I haven’t answered any of them. As a buffer against his presence, I mentally check off the reasons why:

Flaky.

Douchey friends.

Womanizer.

Off. Limits.

So I resent the physical reaction I’m having: my heart is definitely beating a little faster, and there’s a distinct flutter of interest between my legs.

When did my body become such a traitor?

He looks up just as I place the tray on the table, and catches my eye. I’m not sure when he got here, but he doesn’t look surprised to see me at all.

I ask the table if there’s anything else I can get them before heading back to the bar. Fred is talking to one of the regulars when I slip behind the counter. I make two gin and tonics, pour a few beers, and have just started unloading a pack of Red Bull into the cooler when I hear a throat clear behind me.

“You didn’t answer any of my texts, Logan,” he says.

“A disorienting experience?” I ask with a smile, closing the cooler door and turning. “What can I get you?”

“Just a beer, please,” he says, looking up at the TV. “That looks interesting.”

I follow his gaze to where a trailer for a horror movie plays during a commercial break. “ ‘That’?”

He shrugs. “I heard it got pretty good reviews.”

“I’m not really a scary movie person,” I tell him, bending to drop a dirty rag in a bin beneath the bar.

“What kind of films do you like?”

I blink up to him. “What kind of . . . did you say films?”

He spins the beer coaster in front of him. “I did.”

“Comedies, I guess?”

Nodding quickly, Luke says, “Yeah, I like those, too.”

He’s being so odd, and doing that thing where he fidgets when he’s uncomfortable. Granted, things are totally weird between us, but I actually miss cocky Luke a little. Maybe he, too, is thinking back to what happened at Bliss. Maybe he’s wondering how much I heard.

Maybe the fact that he’s trying to make it okay between us should make me feel better, but, given everything, it doesn’t.

“Are you going to ask me about the weather next?”

He breaks his attention from the television and looks over at me. “What?”

“Why do you sound like you’re reading for the lead in The 40-Year-Old Virgin? You’re being weird.”

“I’m not—”

“Yeah, you are.”

He runs a hand through his hair. “I think I’m just a little off today.”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Yeah,” he says, nodding. “Sure.”

“Do you have any girl friends you don’t bang?”

His eyes narrow. “Of course I do. Margot—”

I hold up a hand to stop him. “Let me rephrase that. Do you have any female friends you just hang out with, who you are not related to, and who you have never banged, and/or never think of banging?”

He looks mildly offended. “Yes, Logan. Several.”

Leaning my elbows on the bar, I lower my voice, telling him, “Really? Because you’ve dialed down the flirtation tonight, but you’re acting like a robot. It’s like you have two settings: pickup artist or awkward.”

“Like I said, I’m just in a weird mood,” he says quietly.

“Luke?”

His shy smile melts me a little. “Logan?”

“You don’t need to have your dick out for someone to like you.”

The smile is dialed up a few hundred degrees. “Is that right?”

“Would I lie to you?”

This makes him laugh. “You’ve ignored all of my texts,” he says again, as if this proves me wrong.

A waitress drops a ticket on the counter and I reach for it. With an inward wince, I realize how easy it is to fall into flirtation with him—I’m even initiating it.

Flaky.

Douchey friends.

Womanizer.

Off. Limits.

“I worked pretty much nonstop,” I tell him.

Luke takes a pull from his beer and then examines the bottle. “You know, one of these days I’m going to turn into a raging alcoholic and it’ll be your fault.”

“I drive you to drink?” I ask.

He tears the corner of the label and begins to slowly peel it away. “No. But I hang out in bars hoping to see you. Eventually all this is going to catch up with me and I’ll look like my uncle Steve.”

Unease pulls my shoulders up tight. It’s not only that Luke bangs all the women, it’s that now I realize being with him could jeopardize my friendships. “You could always hang out somewhere else, you know.”

“I don’t really want to, is the thing,” he says, and winces a little, as if the admission is as unsettling to him as it is to me.

Someone steps up to the end of the bar, and I motion to Luke that I’ll be right back. When I return, he doesn’t look any happier than he did. Luke checks his phone and then looks toward the door.

“Expecting someone?” I say.

“Dylan,” he tells me. “We’re driving up to some bookstore or something. How do you know him, anyway?”

“Friend of a friend,” I say with a shrug. “And he surfs, so I see him down at Black’s Beach sometimes.”

“Maybe we—” he starts to say, when the outside door opens and a couple of his friends from the other night make their way inside.

“Sutter!” one of them shouts, pointing in his direction.

“Your fan club is calling,” I tell him with a smile, picking up a towel to dry a load of dishes.

“When will I see you again?”

“I’ll be here,” I say, but I can tell it wasn’t the answer he was looking for. He continues to watch me for a moment before he sighs, and glances back to where his friends have begun circling a group of girls playing pool. Of course they are. He nods to tell them he’ll be right there.

“I’m assuming you’d shoot me down if I asked if you wanted to do something later?”

“You would be correct,” I tell him. The door opens again, followed by the sound of voices and cheers as another large group of men in softball jerseys files in. Another team, I’m guessing.

Luke stands and pulls out his wallet, laying a few bills out on the counter to pay for his drink. “Then I guess I’ll see you, Logan,” he says, and smiles before he heads to the back.


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