Authors: Carly Michaels
“I don’t believe you,” she said, scraping the last of the yogurt from her bowl before rounding the corner to plop it in the water. “You’re into York. You can deny it all you want, but I saw the way you looked at him when he left. You want more of whatever he gave you this morning.”
“Doesn’t matter what I want,” I said, unable to deny the truth. “Starting something with York would be a huge mistake.”
Ace and I were just climbing out of the ring after our trainer had put us through our paces when he asked, “Are you gonna tell me what happened between you and Lacy this morning, or are you gonna make me guess?”
Ace had managed to ring my bell a few times that morning because my mind was back in that apartment with Lacy. I wanted to hear her make those sexy sounds all over again, this time while she was riding me. Apparently he’d guessed why I was so distracted.
“Nothing happened,” I said, using the towel around my neck to wipe the sting of sweat out of my eyes.
“You’re full of shit,” he said, grinning. “I know the look a woman gets when she’s satisfied, and Lacy had that look in spades by the time we walked out the door.”
“Mind your own goddamn business,” I said, reaching for my water bottle.
“Just tell me this,” he said before tipping back his water bottle. “You back with her or what?”
I wish I knew. Even after what happened this morning, I didn’t know whether I had the right to call her again. Which I was dying to. “I don’t know, man.”
“Don’t you think you should find out?” He gestured to my phone, which I’d stacked on my shirt before stepping into the ring with him. “Text her. Call her. Whatever. Just find out if she wants to pick up where you left off before you started acting like an ass and scared her off.”
Ace had read me the riot act after I told him what had happened with Lacy, and after a few days of licking my wounds, I had to admit he was right. If some woman I’d just met had acted the way I had, I would have written her off too.
“I don’t want to make the mistake of coming on too strong again.” I hated second-guessing myself. I usually knew exactly how to handle women based on what I was angling for: sex or something more. But Lacy was a complete mystery to me. Which only made me want her more. “I think I’ll give it a day or two before I—”
“Big mistake,” Ace said, shaking his head. “You gotta strike while the iron’s hot, man. A girl like Lacy doesn’t sit at home waiting for a guy to call her. She’s too busy living her life. And since that life includes a night club and a kickboxing studio, it’s only a matter of time before she meets another dude who makes her forget all about you.”
Damn. I couldn’t risk that. I grabbed my phone, and my fingers hovered over the screen. “Fuck.” I wiped more sweat off my forehead. “What should I say?”
Ace chuckled. I knew he was getting off on watching me squirm. “Just tell her it was good to see her today. See if she responds.”
That seemed harmless enough. I fired off a text, holding my breath to see if she’d respond right away. After a minute passed, I cursed myself for being an impatient idiot. I set the phone on a nearby chair while I refilled my water bottle from a cooler in the corner.
Ace grinned when my phone vibrated, letting me know I had a message. “She says you blew her mind.”
“Gimme that, asshole,” I said, grabbing the phone from him. Looking at the screen, I couldn’t hide my smile as I read her words over and over.
Goes both ways
, I replied.
“She’s good for you,” Ace said, smirking. “She makes you work for it, keeps you guessing. You need a woman like that.”
No, what I needed was stability and a girl who could make me feel secure in what we had. I knew Lacy wasn’t likely to be that girl, but I’d give anything if she could be.
“I don’t want to play games,” I said, gripping my phone. “I want…” I was almost afraid to say it. “I guess I’m ready for a girlfriend again.”
“And you want it to be Lacy.” Ace nodded. “I get that. She’s hotter than hell. But it seems she’s got a lot going on.” He tapped his index finger against his temple. “Maybe too much.”
“Are you saying she’s too smart for me?”
Ace laughed. “Well, there is that. But that’s not what I meant. I get the feeling she’s been through the emotional wringer with men. Could be impossible to break through those barriers, buddy.”
As we walked to the showers, I said, “Giving up doesn’t feel like an option. I tried that, remember? And I’m not gonna lie. I’ve thought about her every goddamn minute since I walked out of her brother’s office that night.”
“Then there’s only one thing you can do,” Ace said, gripping my neck. “Make her see you’re not like all the rest.”
I didn’t text Lacy to let her know I was going to pass by her brother’s club that night, but I was pissed when I saw her favorite regular sitting on a stool at the bar, chatting her up as she mixed drinks for her other customers.
“Shit,” I muttered, stopping just inside the entrance, and Ace and my brother turned to look at me, waiting for some explanation. “It’s the guy from the park. The one Lacy dated.”
Wes gave him a quick once-over, taking in his lean build and yuppie clothes. “Doesn’t look like much of a threat to me. I don’t know what you’re worried about.”
“Did I say I was worried?”
Ash spotted me from across the bar and made his way toward us. His gaze strayed to Ace briefly, but he smiled when he offered me his hand. “Good to see you, man,” he said, slapping my shoulder as he clasped my hand. “When I didn’t see you around for a while, I thought my little sister had blown it with you.”
“What’s the deal there?” I asked, nodding toward the bar. “Has he been hangin’ around much lately?”
“No,” Ash said. “Tonight’s the first time I’ve seen him in a few weeks.”
“Good to know,” I said, nodding when Lacy finally caught my eye. She smiled and waved, easing the knot in my stomach as I introduced her brother to Ace and Wes.
“Ace,” Ash said, clenching his jaw, “I hear you’re dating Rachel. I hope you’re being good to her. She’s a real sweetheart.”
“Yeah, she is,” Ace said, obviously sizing up his competition. “You don’t have to worry about me. I’ll treat her right.”
Ashce looked as though he wanted to say more but returned his attention to me instead. “You guys can snag that table,” he said, pointing at one near the dance floor, with a gold reserved sign on it. “I keep it open in case some of my friends pass by.”
“Sure, no problem,” he said, glancing at Ace one last time. “I’ll send a waitress over to take your order.”
“What the hell was that about?” Wes asked Ace once we were seated. “I was just waiting for the pissing contest.”
“Lacy’s brother is Rachel’s ex,” I explained. “Lacy said it wasn’t serious, but I don’t think Ash likes the idea of Rachel hooking up with our boy here.” I grinned as I slapped Ace on the back.
“I don’t give a shit whether he likes it or not.” Ace glared at Ash’s back as he faced the bar, talking to his sister. “He’s going to have to get used to it.”
“You’re really into this chick, huh?” Wes asked, scrolling through the updates on his phone.
Ace chuckled. “You’ve seen her. Can you blame me?”
Rachel was hot, but Ash was right. She was a sweetheart too. I hoped my best friend realized that and wasn’t treating her like just another ring rat.
“Don’t make the same mistake Ash did,” I warned my friend. “Taking her for granted? A woman will only put up with that shit for so long.”
Before Ace could respond, Laura passed by to take our drink order, flirting with all of us in turn before she put a little swing in her hips as she walked away. Probably wasn’t sure who’d be covering the bill tonight and wanted to hedge her bets by coming on to all of us to ensure a good tip.
“She’s definitely the hottest girlfriend you’ve ever had,” Wes said, watching Lacy pass out drinks while laughing and chatting up her patrons. “I know you’ve dated models and actresses and shit like that, but this one’s the real deal. You can tell there’s nothing fake about her.”
“Except she’s not York’s girlfriend yet,” Ace said, grinning at me.
“You think that leaves the door open for me?” Wes asked Ace as though I wasn’t even there.
My brother was just messing with me, but I wasn’t in the mood. Especially since I had to watch the douche from the dealership trying to get her attention while she tried to do her job. “Unless you want to go to work with a black eye tomorrow, I’d keep my mouth shut, little brother.”
“Oh, okay, tough guy,” he said, rolling his eyes with a laugh as the waitress returned with our beers.
“I’m just gonna hit the washroom,” I said, standing. “Be right back.”
Ace grabbed my arm. “Don’t do anything stupid. You just got her talking to you again. Let’s keep it that way.”
“Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” Of course I had to make a pit stop at the bar just to let her friend know I had my eye on him. “Hey, beautiful,” I said, winking at her.
To my surprise, she leaned over the bar to kiss my cheek. “This is a nice surprise. You guys had nothing better to do tonight?”
“It occurred to me you hadn’t officially met my brother yet.” I hooked my thumb over my shoulder. “It’s not like you’re missing much, but still, pass by if you get a minute.”
“I definitely will,” she said, smiling. “Uh, Brent, you remember my friend York, don’t you?”
Ugh. There was that goddamn word again. But since she probably would have used more colorful language to describe me a few days ago, I wasn’t going to complain.
“Hey,” I said, nodding at him.
Normally when I sized up my competition, it was inside of a cage and we were getting ready for a bloody battle. In that case, I knew if I lost, I’d walk away with hurt pride and some cuts and bruises. But if I lost Lacy to this loser, I had a feeling the loss would be immeasurable.
“Hey,” he said, reaching for his drink. “I’ll be back, Lacy. Gotta make a call.”
She was trying to keep a straight face as she wiped down the bar with a damp rag. “I’m impressed. You really have learned your lesson, haven’t you?”
“What do you mean?” I took the stool he’d left as I pushed his girly drink aside.
“You held your temper even though you looked like you wanted to take his head off.”
I reached across the bar for her hand. “I’m that transparent, huh?”
“I appreciate that you didn’t go bat-shit crazy and make a scene when you saw me with him,” she said, resting her elbows on the bar as she leaned in. “That shows me you’re maturing.”
I laughed before stealing a quick kiss, just to test the waters. They seemed warm. “What a difference a week makes, right?” My smile faded when I thought about how miserable I’d been during that time. “It may sound stupid, but I missed you.”
“It doesn’t sound stupid,” she said, her gaze lingering on my lips. “I missed you too. I guess I didn’t realize how much until I saw you in our apartment this morning.”
I grinned, remembering our time together. “I’m glad I was able to remind you that life with me can be a hell of a lot more fun than life without me.”
“I’m getting that,” she said, looking down at our joined hands.
Customers were circling the bar, but the two other bartenders seemed to have things under control, so I asked, “Can we hit the reset button, Lace? You know, start over. Pretend that stupid fight never happened?”
She sighed as her eyes drifted to the door. “I’d like to, but my life is kind of complicated right now. I should probably fill you in before you decide whether you want to risk getting caught up in my drama.”
I couldn’t imagine anything she might say that would deter me, but I asked, “How about getting together after work tonight? My brother’s back at his place now, so we could head back to my house. Just to talk.”
“I’m supposed to work until close.” She glanced at her brother, who was standing at the door and talking to the bouncer. “But let me see if Ash can let me book out a few hours early. I’ve been pulling a lot of overtime lately, so he owes me.”
“Cool.” I gripped her chin. I probably shouldn’t kiss her at work, but I couldn’t help myself. “Let me know.”
Lacy seemed nervous as we rolled up my drive, but I took her hand and kissed it, hoping to put her at ease.
“You okay?” I asked, smiling at her.
“Yeah, it’s just…” She wiped her free hand on the leg of her jeans. “Your house is really nice.”
I didn’t know if my house was intimidating or the chat we were about to have was making her anxious, but I didn’t waste any time finding out. I cut the engine and rounded the truck to help her out.
She laughed as she took my hand. “I think you’re the first guy to ever open a car door for me.”
“Then you’ve been dating the wrong guys,” I said, slipping an arm around her waist as I led her up to the ornate wood doors. “Maybe you’ve finally found the right one.”
Lacy’s smile took my breath away when she whispered, “Maybe I have.”
I deactivated the alarm while she slipped out of her high heels. She sighed as she dug her toes into the Persian carpet in the foyer.
“Wow, this place is gorgeous,” she said, looking around wide-eyed as I hit a panel that flooded the main floor with light. “It doesn’t look like a bachelor pad. Are you sure you live here alone?”
I smiled as I took her hand and led her into the gourmet kitchen, which opened to the sunken family room. “Positive. But my ex was an interior designer, so I let her have her way with the place when I bought it.”
“Is this the ex who cheated on you?” she asked, jumping up onto one of the bar-height chairs at the center island.
“Yeah, but I try not to let that color my opinion of the house.” I shrugged. “She may have been a bitch, but she had good taste.”
“Was she a bitch?” Lacy asked, propping her chin in her palm. “Or are you just bitter because she broke your heart?”
I stepped between her legs, resting my hands on her hips. “She didn’t break my heart. She hurt my pride. There’s a difference.”