Authors: Elle Kennedy
Fate must be on board with the plan, because I’m out with some friends on Saturday night to see a buddy’s band at the Rip Tide when I spot
. She’s alone at a high-top table, placed directly in my path as if by some higher power.
Her face is unmistakable. And holy hell, she was good-looking in photos but a total knockout in person. The kind of girl who sticks out in a crowd. Stunning, with long dark hair and piercing eyes that shine under the lights from the stage. Even at a distance, she’s got an effortless cool about her, an aura of confidence. In a white T-shirt knotted at her waist and a pair of jeans, she stands out for not trying too hard.
All that would be enough to capture my attention even if she didn’t have a killer body. But she has that too—impossibly long legs, a full rack, a round bottom. She’s the girl my daydreams daydream about.
“That her?” Alana leans in to follow my gaze to where Preston Kincaid’s girlfriend is sitting. “She’s better looking in person.”
“Quick smoke while the next band sets up?” suggests our friend Tate. He rises from the table, dragging a hand through his messy blond hair.
“Nah, we’re staying here,” Alana answers for us.
He quirks a brow at me. “Coop?”
Once again, Alana is my mouthpiece. “Cooper is cutting back on the cancer sticks.” She waves a hand. “You guys go on out.”
Shrugging, Tate wanders off, tailed by Wyatt and Wyatt’s girlfriend, Ren. The moment they’re gone, Alana turns her gaze on me.
“Lemme hear it,” she orders.
“Your game. Pitch some lines.” She flips her hair and props her chin in her hands, giving me sarcastic doe eyes.
“Fuck off.” I don’t need a pickup coach.
“You need a plan,” she insists. Thing about Alana, when she gets her claws into something, she tends to take over. “You can’t just go over and drop your dick in her lap.”
“Yes, thank you, I’m aware.” I drain the last of my beer as I get up from the table.
Alana stops me, pulls the sleeves of my black Henley down and runs her hands through my hair.
“What’s that for?” I grumble.
“Best foot forward,” she says. “Just in case she’s a prude. Tattoos scare off the prudes.” Leaning back, she takes a final appraising glance before shooing me with her hand. “You’re done. Go forth and conquer.”
This is the problem with having girl friends.
Before I approach my mark’s table, I take a quick scan of the room to make sure Kincaid isn’t lurking somewhere. Not that I have any qualms about a rematch. Getting into a bar fight isn’t part of the plan, though. This’ll work best if I can swoop in there undetected until it’s too late for him to intervene. Win her over before he even knows the enemy is inside the gates.
Satisfied that she’s flying sans-boyfriend tonight, I walk up to her table. With her face glued to her phone, she doesn’t notice me until I tap her on the arm.
“Hey,” I say, bending my head toward her so she can hear me over the music from the loudspeaker. “You using this stool?”
“No.” She doesn’t lift her attention from the lit screen. “Go ahead.” When I sit, her head jerks up. “Oh. Figured you’d just take the stool to another table. But okay.”
“Settle a bet for me,” I say, leaning in closer. She smells good, like vanilla and citrus. So good I almost forget why I’m here. That she doesn’t pull away or throw a drink in my face is a good start.
“Uh … what sort of bet?” There’s a flicker of hostility in her eyes before her expression softens. When she rakes her gaze over me, I know I’ve got her intrigued.
“What if I told you, an hour from now, you’d be leaving this bar with me.”
“I’d say I admire your hustle, but you’d be better off aiming that arrow at another target.”
“So we have a wager then.” Holding her gaze, I offer my hand to shake on it. I find the best way to truly know someone is to push and see if they push back. Wind them up and let them go.
“I have a boyfriend,” she says flatly, ignoring my hand. “You’ve already lost.”
I meet her eyes. Insolently. “I didn’t ask about your boyfriend.”
For a moment she’s taken aback. Of course she is, because no one talks to her that way. Certainly not her dumbass boyfriend. Chicks like her are used to parents doting on their every desire and servants waiting on them hand and foot. And as the notion of me settles into her mind, I see the moment she decides I’m more interesting than whatever was on her phone.
She puts it to sleep and pushes it away.
So fucking predictable. Every rich girl from a good family wonders what it’s like to be with the guy from the wrong side of the gilded gates. It’s the closest thing to a thrill they’ll ever have.
“Is this a gag?” She looks around. “Did Bonnie put you up to this?”
“I don’t know any Bonnie. I’m Cooper.”
“Mackenzie,” she replies with a furrowed brow, still spinning her wheels wondering what the catch is. “But I really do have a boyfriend.”
“You keep saying that.”
This time when I lean in, she doesn’t back away. The gap between us falls to a few inches, the air between us growing thinner.
“In most of the civilized world,” she says slowly, “that matters.”
“And here I’m looking around, and I don’t see this guy you’re so concerned about.”
Her face is incredulous, if a bit amused. She knows exactly how hot she is and is used to men chasing after her. Yet I sense her unease. I threw her off-kilter. Which tells me she’s thinking about it. I’ve met countless girls like her, slept with a few of them, and right now, the farfetched fantasies and what-ifs are spiraling through her pretty head.
“I’m with my roommate tonight.” There’s still fight in her voice, the resolve to hold her ground, or at least appear to do so. This is a woman who’s never played the easy target. “It’s a girls’ thing.”
“Yeah, real wild night you’re having,” I drawl, gesturing at her glass of water. “Someone’s got a good girl complex, huh?”
“I’m dying to find out how insulting me is going to win you this bet.”
“Stick around and find out.”
She holds up her water. “This is called being a good friend. I’ve already met my alcohol quota of two drinks.”
“Whatever you say, princess.”
She twirls the straw in her glass. “I’m trying to watch out for my roommate tonight.”
“What if I thought you looked lonely?”
She cocks her head, eyes narrowing. I can see the gears working in her mind, analyzing me. “Why would I be lonely?”
“Let’s cut the bullshit.”
She nods with a smirk. “Yes, let’s.”
“You’re an attractive woman alone in a crowded bar with your face glued to your phone because there’s somewhere else you’d rather be. And wherever that place is, there’s someone who’s having fun without you. Yet you’re sitting here wearing your boredom as a badge of loyalty, with some misguided notion that being miserable proves what a good person you are. So, yeah, I think you’re lonely. I think you’re so desperate for a good time you’re secretly glad I walked over here. In the deepest, darkest part of your brain, you want me to give you a reason to misbehave.”
Mackenzie doesn’t answer. In the crackle of energy building in the tight space between us, I watch the indecision warring behind her eyes. She considers everything I just said, stabbing the straw into her glass of ice water.
If she’s going to tell me to get lost, this is it. I’ve called her out and anything less than shutting me down is an admission that I’m at least a little right. But if she doesn’t shut me down, then the path ahead of her is unmarked. There are no rules, and that’s dangerous territory for someone whose whole world is mapped out for them from birth. Being rich means never having to think for yourself.
If she chooses to follow me, it only gets less predictable from here.
“Alright,” she says finally. “I’ll take that bet.” I can tell she’s still skeptical of my motivations, but she’s intrigued. “But if you think this ends with getting me in bed, you might as well pay up now.”
“Right. Wouldn’t want to tempt you with a good time.”
She rolls her eyes, failing to hide a smile.
“I mean, I could feel the bummer energy wafting off of you from way over there,” I say, nodding toward the table where Alana and our friends are failing to pretend they aren’t watching us. “Honestly, this is a mitigation protocol. If your attitude doesn’t improve, we’re gonna have to ask you to leave before your bummer spreads.”
“Oh,” she says, putting on an expression of mock seriousness, “if this is a medical emergency, then, by all means, please.”
She’s got banter, at least. I was afraid she’d be another stuck-up priss who couldn’t string a thought together that wasn’t about clothes or nail polish. I assumed going into this I’d have to contend with a typical clone attitude of bitchy entitlement, but this chick seems mostly normal, with none of that pompous pretension.
drag you out tonight?” I ask. The more she can talk about herself, the more her walls will come down. Gives her the idea she’s in control.
“My roommate is hunting a pair of twins,” she informs me.
Oh really. “For sport or meat?”
“Bit of both.” Her gaze travels the room, presumably searching the crowd for this elusive roommate. “She has a thing for socially unproductive boys who put their personality on their skin, and she’s got it in her head that twins are good odds. Personally, I think a bout of herpes isn’t worth the morning-after Instagram selfie, but what do I know?”
I struggle to keep a straight face. This is too perfect. I almost feel bad doing this to her, but then she did suggest I have herpes, so not that bad.
“You know these twins?” I paste on an innocent tone.
“No, but if they’re so infamous their reputation on campus filtered all the way down to a freshman in the first week of school, their tales must be long and plentiful.” Her face scrunches in disgust. If this wasn’t so amusing, I might be offended. “Any guy that gets around that much is bound to fill up a petri dish with all manner of genital infestations.”
“Obviously,” I say solemnly. “Got a name for these twin patient zeros?”
“The Hartleys. They’re local.” Then her face lights up. “You don’t know them, do you? I mean, Bonnie would be excited to pick up a clue on her quest, but if they’re friends of yours or something …”
I almost can’t stand the anticipation anymore.
“Nah, forget those guys.” I’m fighting a grin. “Couple dirtbags, those two.”
“Mac! I need another drink and then we—Oh.” A short blonde walks up and stops short, staring straight through my skull. Her face turns a glowing pink as her big eyes dart to Mackenzie.
A few daunting seconds of mental gymnastics pass wordlessly between the girls before Mackenzie grabs my wrist and yanks one sleeve up my arm to reveal my tattoos.
“Oh fuck off,” she says to me, glaring fire. “No. Nope. Not fair.” She sits back and crosses her arms in defiance. “You knew I was talking about you and still let me go on like that?”
“I never pass up on free entertainment,” I say, my grin springing free.
Her roommate slides onto the stool beside Mackenzie, watching us. It suddenly occurs to me that the roommate situation could be tricky. Either this girl derails my plans by calling dibs and scaring off Mackenzie before I’ve ever had a shot, or she’s my ace in the hole. Get the roommate on my side and coast to the finish line. Luckily, I have a spare me to toss her way.
“You duped me.” Emphatic, Mackenzie tells me, “An intentional attempt at deception. That’s not allowed. In fact, this entire interaction is now moot. We didn’t meet. I don’t know you.”
“Wow.” I push back from the table, smothering a laugh. “You’ve given me a lot to think about. I’m gonna need another drink to soak that in. Another round?” This time I direct the question to the roommate, whose permanent look of awe has not waned.
“Yes, please,” she says. When Mackenzie appears she might object, the roommate shoots her a look. “Thank you.”
I head over to the bar and catch a glimpse of Alana, who gets up from our friends’ table to follow me. She takes a circuitous route
to pass slowly by Mackenzie and her roommate while I order three beers.
“Looks like it went well,” Alana says when she finally slides in beside me. The current band’s set ends and there’s a brief lull before the canned music is pumped into the room as the next band sets up.
“She’s cool,” I answer, shrugging. “Kinda mouthy, but when has that ever stopped me?”
“Yeah, well, don’t get attached.” Alana orders a shot for herself.
“I just met the girl. Relax.” Besides, attachment’s never been my problem. Growing up the way I did, I learned a long time ago that everything is temporary. There’s no use investing too much of myself. Easier that way. Clean. Saves everyone all sorts of grief.
“I heard them talking.” Alana downs her shot and winces at the burn. “The blonde one was like,
He’s yours if you want him
, but our girl was like,
Nah, go for it
. So …” She turns around to lean against the bar, looking over at the girls’ table. “You’ve still got a lot of work to do there.”
“Long story, but I might have to throw Evan at the blonde one.”
“How ever will he manage,” Alana says, rolling her eyes at me.
The roommate’s hot, no doubt, but she’s not really my type. Anyway, she’s about half my size, and I hate throwing my back out bending down to kiss a girl.
The bartender comes back with our drinks and I gather them up, returning to the girls as Alana shouts something like
Go get ’em, tiger
at my back. I underestimated how obnoxious turning my sex life into a spectator sport would be.
At the table, I put the drinks down and take a seat. When Mackenzie pushes her water to the side to accept the beer, I know for certain she’s along for the ride. If she was going to get spooked and bolt, it would have been before I got back.
“Cooper Hartley.” I offer my hand to the roommate, who’s studying me not at all discreetly.
She shakes my hand, her small fingers lingering. “Bonnie May Beauchamp,” she says with a heavy Southern accent. “Don’t suppose your brother is lurkin’ around.”