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Excerpt from Foreplay
I craned my head to look around. “How are you going to find a table in this zoo?”
Emerson gave me an insulted look. “Oh, we’ll get a table. Leave it to me.”
“Here.” Georgia thrust some money in my hand. “First pitcher on me.”\
“The only pitcher. We don’t need to buy our own drinks.” Emerson shook her head like we both had much to learn and motioned for me to move on toward the bar. “Go on. And while you’re there keep an eye out for you-know-who.”
I watched as they disappeared into the throng, convinced now that the whole point of sending me to the bar was for me to scope out the player bartender we’d come here looking for. I worked my way through the crush, wading through bodies until I stood in line behind a pair of giggling girls.
“Yeah, that’s him,” a bleached blonde said to her friend. “Lydia said he was hot, but OMG … that’s putting it mildly.”
Her friend fanned herself. “If he would mess around with Lydia, he’s going to think he hit the lottery with us.
Who talked about themselves like that? I couldn’t help myself. A laugh escaped me. I slapped a hand over my mouth.
The dark-haired girl glared over her shoulder at me. I quickly dropped my hand and tried to look innocent, angling my neck as though I was impatient to place my drink order and not eavesdropping.
The blonde slapped her arm. “You’re so bad, Gina.”
Gina returned her attention to her friend. “Well, hopefully I’ll get to be bad with him tonight. I call dibs.” She waved a ten-dollar bill, clearly trying to gain the bartender’s attention.
I shook my head, regretting every time I'd ever judged Emerson for her lack of inhibitions. Compared to these two she was a Girl Scout. Clearly they were discussing my bartender. Wait. When did he become mine? I winced. From the sound of it, he belonged to every female that passed through Mulvaney’s doors.
I reminded myself that I would not be hooking up with anyone tonight … especially a bartender with a reputation for swapping DNA with the entire female population of Dartford. Thanks, but no. I couldn’t imagine myself with someone so undiscriminating. I had standards. There was no way I could contemplate messing around with someone like that. Even if it was to gain some much-needed experience to win over Hunter.
And then I saw him.
The air froze in my lungs. He stepped up in front of the two girls, bracing his arms against the bar top. I heard his voice, low and deep, over the steady drone of the bar.
“What can I get for you?”
I gawked, unable to blink. I had an unobstructed view of him in the space between the girls. The blood rushed in my ears, and suddenly it was last night all over again and I was on a lonely stretch of country road, the acrid smoke of my overheating car filling my nostrils as I stared at his familiar face. That dark blond hair cut close to his head. The tall, lean body that had bent over the engine of my car less than twenty-four hours ago. I could see him even more clearly now, but I hadn’t been mistaken in my initial assessment. He was hot. His jaw square and strong. His features like something chiseled from marble. There was a shadowy hint of stubble on his face, and his eyes were so piercing a blue they looked almost silver.
He looked just a few years older than me. I could see that now. It was probably just the way he held himself. Experienced. Capable. He wore a well-worn cotton T-shirt with Mulvaney’s stretched across one of his impressive pecs. Dimly I wondered if his shirt looked as soft as it felt? If his chest was as solid?
The girls were tittering like seventh-graders now. Gawking at him, too. I felt like someone sucker punched me. My rescuer. My bartender. Mulvaney’s man-whore. One and the same.
“What can I get you?” he repeated.
“What’s good?” Gina propped her elbows on the bar, no doubt flashing him some of her cleavage.
He rattled off the various beers on tap like he had done it a hundred times before, which he probably had. His gaze slid the length of the bar as he talked, assessing the crowd.
“Hmm. What’s your favorite?” Gina called.
Shaking his head, he looked back down at her. “Look, I’ll come back to you when you make up your mind.” His eyes snapped over them to me. “What’ll you have?”
My mouth parted, surprised that he was addressing me, that he dismissed them so easily. Just like that. And when they were flirting with him no less.
His eyes narrowed with recognition. “Hey. You.” He nodded slightly at me. “How’s the car?"
Before I could answer, Gina sent me a withering look and then turned back to him. She waved her money in his face. “Excuse me. We were here first.”
Sighing, he looked back down at them, his expression a blend of annoyance and boredom. “Then order already.”
She tossed her dark hair over her shoulder. “Forget it. The service here sucks. We’ll go somewhere else.” Turning, they shoved past me.
He didn’t even watch them depart. With his stare fixed on me, he shrugged one shoulder and flashed me a half smile that made my stomach lurch. I stepped up to the bar, trying to look confident. Like I hung out in bars all the time.
He braced his hands on the edge of the bar, leaning forward slightly. “Now what can I get for you?” His tone was decidedly friendlier than when he spoke to the other girls, and heat swarmed my face. I’m sure it was just because we knew each other—in a way—but it still made me feel special.
I lowered my gaze, eyeing his arms. The muscles bunched. A tattoo peaked out from beneath his sleeve and crawled down his tanned bicep and forearm, stopping at his wrist. It looked like some kind of intricate feathered wing. I would have liked to study it further, but I was already conscious that I was ogling him, and I still hadn’t answered his question.
“Um. A pitcher of Sam Adams.” I knew Emerson liked microbrews.
“Oh.” I fumbled for the fake ID Emerson made me get last year for the one time she dragged me to Freemont’s.
He glanced at it and back to my face. A hint of a smile played about his lips. “Twenty-four?”
I nodded, but my face went from warm to scalding.
“Guess you just have one of those baby faces.” He didn’t wait for a reply. Still smiling faintly, he stepped away.
My eyes were drawn to his broad back. His T-shirt hugged the muscled expanse. He wore a pair of well-worn jeans, and the view from the back was almost as nice as the front. Suddenly the bar felt oppressively hot.
He set the full pitcher and a stack of cups in front of me.
“Thanks.” I handed him the money. He took it and moved to the cash register.
In the moments he was gone, I tried to think of something to say. Something cute and engaging. Anything that might draw out our conversation. I didn’t let myself consider why. Or that suddenly I wasn’t so averse to the idea of talking to him. Flirting with him.
My throat closed up, panicking at the prospect. How did Emerson do it? She made flirting look so effortless.
He returned with my change. “Thanks,” I murmured, dropping it into the tip jar.
I looked up but he was already gone, moving on to the next customer. I hesitated, staring after him. Shaking my head, I reminded myself not to ogle. Tucking the cups under one arm, I held the pitcher with two hands and dove back into the throng. Only I didn’t make it two steps before someone bumped me. The pitcher flew from my hands, somersaulting amid bodies, sloshing beer everywhere. People cried out, wiping ineffectually at their doused clothing.
“Sorry!” I apologized to their glaring faces, grateful that I, at least, had somehow managed to stay dry.
Bending, I retrieved the plastic pitcher from the plank floor just as my pocket started to buzz multiple times in quick succession.
I dug it out of my pocket and read the text.
Emerson: Found table. Still at bar? Did u see him? Rolling my eyes, I tucked the empty pitcher under my arm and texted her back. Me: Yes. Yes.
Sighing, I squeezed back to the front of the bar and set the pitcher down on the surface. My gaze searched for him. He was serving customers a little way down the bar now, bending his lean body over the counter to better hear orders. I waited until he caught my gaze. He sent me a nod of acknowledgment. I nodded back.
My phone vibrated in my hand again. I glanced down.
Emerson: U r taking 4ever. Better be making out w/him 2 take this long I snorted and was in the process of typing back to her when he arrived in front of me. He nodded at the pitcher. “That was quick.”
“Yeah.” I hastily slid my phone back in my pocket, almost as if I feared him seeing the texts about him. I smiled wanly. “I didn’t make it three feet.”
“Ah.” He nodded in understanding, bracing his hands on the bar top again. The action stretched his shirt taut over his chest and pulled it against his shoulders. “I’ll let you in on a secret. Nice girls get eaten alive in places like this.”
I stared at him for a moment, his words sinking in. I moistened my lips, reaching deep inside me where some reservoir of female instincts dwelled. “Maybe I’m not that nice.”
He laughed then, a short, deep sound that sent ripples eddying through me. My face flushed. I smiled hesitantly, unsure if his laughter was good or bad.
“Sweetheart, you’ve got ‘nice girl’ written all over you.”
The "sweetheart" made my stomach flutter. Until the rest of his words sank in. You’ve got "nice girl" written all over you. I frowned. Nice girls didn’t win the guy. Hunter’s ex-girlfriend flashed across my mind. She had been sexy, with sleek, surfer-blond hair and designer clothes that showed off her body. Sophisticated. Not your girl-next-door type at all. Not like me. No one would accuse her of being a nice girl.
“You might be surprised,” I bluffed.
“Yeah.” He nodded, his gaze skimming me, and suddenly I wished I had worn something besides a shapeless sweater. “I would be.”
I clamped my lips shut to stop myself from arguing with him. He thought I was a nice girl because that’s how I looked. I wasn’t going to change his mind with words. That was the kind of thing one proved. He bent his arm and tapped his elbow. “Use your elbows to get through out there.”
He stepped away and filled another pitcher. He set it down in front of me. I fumbled for my money in the tiny purse strapped across my chest
He swiped a hand through the air. “Don’t worry about it.”
He pointed out into the main room. “Just remember to use those elbows, Nice Girl.”
With that parting tip, he moved down the bar to the next customer. I stood there and stared after him for a moment, contemplating our exchange. Nice Girl. It echoed through my head. Fantastic. That’s how he thought of me. No name. Simply that.
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about the author
Sophie Jordan grew up in the Texas hill country where she wove fantasies of dragons, warriors, and princesses. A former high school English teacher, she's also the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of Avon historical romances. She now lives in Houston with her family. When she's not writing, she spends her time overloading on caffeine (lattes and Diet cherry Coke preferred), talking plotlines with anyone who will listen (including her kids), and cramming her DVR with true-crime and reality-TV shows. Sophie also writes paranormal romances under the name Sharie Kohler.