Authors: Darcy Burke
For my daughter, Quinn
You teach me every day that the best things in life are unexpected. I love you!
a deep breath and dialed her assistant and close friend, Craig Walker. He was going to laugh his butt off when she told him why she was calling, which almost made her hang up, but she forced herself to go through with it.
“Sara! Your call can only mean one thing: You're totally doing it.”
She envisioned his blue eyes alight with laughter and his dimples creasing, and she rolled her eyes. “I guess so.”
He whooped into the phone, causing Sara to pull it back from her ear. “Awesome! You won't regret it. It's been waaaaay too long since you got out there. What, four years?”
“You're exaggerating.” More like three. She hadn't been out with a guy since Jude. Easy, breezy, coffee barista Jude. He'd been a welcome breath of fresh air after her cheating college boyfriend. Come to think of it, she'd taken three years to get back in the game then, too.
“Am I? I've known you for almost three years and you've never had even a casual date in all that time.”
Because after she and Jude had ended their fling, she'd decided to focus on her business, and she'd hired Craig a couple of months later. “Enough with the history lesson. Let's talk about tonight before I lose my nerve.”
“Got it. I'm really proud of you for doing this. You need a social life beyond our rom com movie nights.”
Sara suspected he was pushing her to go out because he'd started dating someone. They seemed serious even though it had only been a couple of weeks, and when you fell in love, you wanted the whole world to fall in love too. Not that Sara planned on doing that again. If she could count her college boyfriend as falling in love. She really didn't know anymore.
“I was thinking I might go line dancing.” She glanced through her clothing, pondering what to wear.
“Line dancing?” Craig's tone made it sound as if he were asking if she was going to the garbage dump. He wouldn't be caught dead in a country-western bar. “If you want to get your groove on, Taylor and I will come get you and take you downtown. Much better scene.”
No, the nearby suburban country-western bar would suit her needs just fine. She wouldn't be comfortable at a chic Portland clubâtotally out of her league. “I'll stick with Sidewinders, thanks.”
“We wouldn't take you to a gay bar,” Craig said with a touch of exasperation that made her smile.
“I know. I just don't want company. You'd try to set me up with every guy in the place.”
“I'm not that bad! Taylor keeps me in line.”
Yeah, she'd noticed. She'd been out with them once and was surprised at the difference in Craig. He was still his energetic self, but it was like everything he had was focused on his new boyfriend. She supposed that was natural when a relationship was shiny and new. “Well, I'm good going by myself. I'm just going to dance a little, maybe sip a lemon drop, see what happens.”
Craig made a noise of disgust. “Don't ass out, Sara. You need to get laid.”
Sara's fingers froze on the edge of a long-sleeved silk blouse. She'd had precisely two partnersâher college boyfriend, the douche, and Jude, her rebellion boyfriend after she'd moved away from Ribbon Ridge, her small hometown, and her large, overprotective family. Some of whom still saw her as the little girl with Sensory Processing Disorder who had public tantrums and got overexcited in certain situations.
She jerked herself back to the phone conversation. “Very funny, Craig.”
“I'm serious.” He exhaled loudly. “Though the thought of stepping foot inside Sidewinders gives me hives, Taylor and I will come along and be your wingmen.”
Her fingers landed on a shirt she'd never worn, a sexy, sleeveless aqua top that would flash some cleavage. It was one of those items of clothing she'd bought on a whim, on Craig's insistence, actually. “You don't need to sacrifice yourself for me,” she said. “I'm probably just going to dance a bit and come home. Boring.”
Her skin itched at the thought. She didn't want boring or expected. Not tonight.
“With that sort of attitude, you're going to have a blast.” His sarcasm dripped through the phone. “Listen up. Where's that shimmery aqua top we bought last fall?”
She smiled as she pulled it off the rod and hung it so she could see the front. “I'm looking at it.”
“Sweet. Now, get your Rock Revival jeans. You look hot in those, and you hardly ever wear them.”
She went to the opposite side of her walk-in closet and picked out the jeans he was talking about. She hung them beside the top. “Please don't ask me to get a pair of heels. I can't dance in them.”
He sighed. “Pity. But you have awesome ballet flats. Wear the silver.”
Good call. She pulled them from her shoe shelf and dropped them to the floor beneath the jeans. “What else?”
“Jewelry, of course. I'm not completely sure what you have, but some big silver hoops would be good. And a long necklace. Do you have something fun? You are kind of a jewelry whore.”
She totally was, and she had the perfect necklace. It was silver with pearls and aquamarine-colored crystals. She'd consented to buy this shirt because it would go with the necklace.
She straightened her spine. “Okay, you've dressed me up, now what? I haven't picked up a guy in . . . oh, never mind. This is a terrible idea. You're a bad influence.”
“NOT even. We've been friends a long time. Have I ever steered you wrong?”
“No.” He was always supportive and honest.
“Get yourself dolled up and go dance. Guys are going to flock to you like hummingbirds to honeysuckle. Taylor and I will come with you, if you want.”
“That's nice of you, but it's not necessary.” It was one thing to talk about picking up a guy, and another to make an actual commitment to go do it. Plus, guys didn't usually pay attention to her. But then she never tried to get their attention, either. “This isn't going to work.”
going to work. You're gorgeous, and if you wear what I told you, you'll look hot. The question is, can you let your guard down long enough to invite a guy in?”
She transferred the phone to her other ear. “I don't know. Craig, I don't really want a relationship.” She was still too focused on her business, on growing Sara Archer Celebrations into
premier event-planning firm in town.
“I know; that's why you're going to have a one-night stand.”
“It's one time, and it'll be good for you. No,
for you. That settles it; I'm coming, and I'm going to make sure you get laid.”
“I don't need a pimp.”
“Ouch. Okay, I won't come, but I'm serious. Why not let yourself go? Just see how the night goes. You're smart; you'll protect yourself. All I'm saying is if the opportunity presents itself, you should go for it.”
His belief in her and the fact that he never belittled her abilities gave her courage. She looked in the full-length mirror hanging in her closet. She
smart, and she
deserve to have some fun. “I'll try.”
“There is no try, Sara. You can do it. You deserve an amazing night.”
“I do. Thanks, Craig.”
“Text me if you need help. I'll be on standby. I can be your wingman from afar.”
She chuckled. “Bye, Craig.”
“Call me tomorrowâI want details!”
She shook her head and hung up.
After setting her phone on a shelf that held her sweaters, she took a deep breath and set about transforming herself into someone else. Someone who was self-assured, knew what she wanted, and wasn't afraid to go after it. Wait, was that really a transformation? Wasn't that the person she'd become after leaving home?
Once she'd changed her clothes and freshened her makeup, she contemplated herself in the mirror. Talking to Craig and coming up with a planâalbeit a somewhat sketchy oneâfilled her with angsty anticipation. Instinctively, she went for the edge of her sleeve before realizing she didn't have long sleeves on. She returned to the jewelry box on her bathroom counter and slipped a half-dozen bangles on her arm. The knock of the metal against her skin would feel good as she danced, and they gave her fingers something to do when she needed to fidget.
Not processing sensory input the same as most people meant adopting what others might consider odd habits: fiddling with the edges of her sleeves or with bracelets, squeezing her arms togetherâsometimes until her face flushed a little bitâbut she'd long ago learned to do that only in private or simply by avoiding certain scenes, such as crowded country-western bars.
Maybe tonight wasn't such a good idea.
No, it was Thursday. It wouldn't be too hard for her to navigate, and she'd become very accomplished at removing herself if a situation began to overwhelm her. She had to be. Learning to manage this completely on her own was one of the reasons she'd moved away from her huge, meddling family.
Pushing them to the recesses of her mind, she slid a pale pink, sparkly gloss over her lips, took a final inventory in the mirror, and left before she could change her mind.
Sidewinders wasn't farâmaybe ten minutes. She hadn't been there since before Thanksgiving, but it never changed. Peanut shells still littered the floor of the bar, and the clack of billiard balls sounded from the loft overhead. As she moved farther inside, the music overtook almost all other sound. Blake Shelton's voice surrounded her, and she smiled as her body began to thrum with the rhythm.
Her pockets filled with her necessitiesâdriver's license, debit card, phone, car key, and lip glossâshe was hands free. She'd even left her jacket in the car, reasoning that she'd be too hot to wear it anyway.
Normally she would've beelined for the dance floor, but she had a different objective tonight. Maybe. Either way, she wanted to take her outfit for a test drive. Summoning a confidence she wasn't sure she completely felt, she attempted a sultry walk to the bar and popped onto a barstool. A dark-haired bartender maybe two or three years younger than Sara approached with a smile. “What can I get you?” she asked.