He must have thought that was the go-ahead to make a move because he leaned in to kiss me. I pulled back and his lips grazed my chin instead.

I stepped back and shook my head. What was wrong with me?

I looked at the cup of water still in my hand and decided that maybe I just needed another drink.

Traveling alone wasn’t easy. There was too much quiet, too much time spent in my head. Sometimes it felt a lot like work. And the antidote to work was more play.

When István and I reached the bar, he smiled and said, “Drink, beautiful American.”

Right. Maybe it would have been nice if he knew a few more words in English.

I ordered another round of shots. At any other time— hell, yesterday—I would have made things interesting with the lemon wedge or some salt, but I wasn’t up to it at the moment. That would take too much effort.

I knew the minute I put the glass to my mouth that it wasn’t a good idea. My mouth was watering, and my stomach felt like it was residing somewhere up in my rib cage. But I took it anyway.

I’d stop after this one, ride it out for a while. I had it totally under control.

Or I thought I had anyway.

Five minutes later, that shot didn’t just hit me. It bulldozed me, backed up, and flattened me again. Just trying to walk made me feel like one of those lame inflatable flailing-tube guys. The ground kept bending up toward me, no matter how carefully I walked. The air seemed to ripple with each thump of the base. Neon lights bounced around the space. With the dancing people, the trippy décor of this place, and the noise, the inside of my head made the Harlem Shake look like a garden party.


“I think . . . I think I need some air.”

“Dance?” István asked.

God, no.

“No dancing. I just need . . .” I pushed back through the crowd to the hallway that we’d arrived through. I ping-ponged between drifts of people and the walls like a pinball before reaching the exit. I burst out into the cool night air, and took a huge gulp of fresh air.

That was my downfall.

I balanced myself with a hand on the building, and then was atrociously, epically, mortifyingly sick on the street. The quiet, empty, not-yet-zombie-infested street.

Footsteps came up behind me, and warm hands pulled back the hair that was hanging on both sides of my face.

Okay, so not entirely empty.

Eyes watery and my throat sore, I looked over my shoulder expecting to see István or maybe Katalin.

Instead, I found the guy who’d disappeared on me earlier reappearing at the absolute worst moment. And that trace of a smile I’d seen in his eyes was long gone.

Kill me now.


I was scared that if I opened my mouth, I would hurl again . . . from the alcohol and the embarrassment.

The world was spinning, but his face—the straight nose and chiseled jawbone—that was still and clear, almost as if the universe wanted this moment imprinted on my brain forever.

“You okay?” he asked, his voice gruff.

No. I was so very far from okay (though still very much in four-letter-word territory).

“I’m fine.” I pushed off the wall where I’d been bracing myself and tottered out into the street.

“Where are you going?”

“Away.” Just . . . away.

The night air was cool, and it felt exquisite against my sweat-dotted skin.

“Hold on,” he said, trailing behind me.


He should be running right now. That’s what you do when someone makes a supreme asshat out of themselves. You look the other way and keep walking.

He stopped before me, his face cast in shadows from the street lamps. “I’m not letting you walk around by yourself.”

Oh. He was one of those.

Couldn’t he take a hint? My head was spinning, and my mouth tasted like something too disgusting for me to name. I never thought there would be a moment where I wanted a hot guy to leave me alone, but it appeared there was a first time for everything.

“I told you, I’m fine.”

“Bad things happen to people who are fine every day.”

So, Dark and Dangerous was really just a Prince Charming with a buzz cut. That shouldn’t have been appealing. Normally, I couldn’t stand that kind of thing. But against all odds, I could feel myself softening, the edges of my will blurring.

I blamed the stubble. I never could resist the scruffy look.

“Listen, I get the whole protective thing. It’s what guys like you do. And don’t get me wrong, it’s kinda hot. But I don’t need a babysitter. So put the knight-in-shining-armor fantasies on hold for the night.”

I thought I sounded firm and very adult (but then again, I was drunk). The roll of his eyes told me that he wasn’t taking me very seriously.

“And I already told you that I don’t care what you think you need.”

“So, what? You’re going to follow me whether I want you to or not?”

His lips pulled together, and I could see the mirth written in the curve of his mouth. Such a tempting mouth.

“That’s exactly what I’m going to do. Someone needs to get you home.”

Not even a measly one percent of me managed to believe that “get you home” meant anything other than dropping the pitiful drunk girl off at her hostel to wallow in her nausea and misery.

We couldn’t have that now, could we?

I sidestepped him. “I’m not going home yet. So run along and find yourself another damsel.”

He smiled, but there was an edge to it. He ran a hand over his short hair, and I made myself walk away.

He called after me, “You’re a real piece of work.”

That made me smile. I stopped and spun, walking backward. I stretched out my hands and yelled, the sound echoing through the street, “You bet I am.”

If there was a museum filled with people who were a “piece of work,” I’d be the main fucking exhibit. I would have said as much, but the whole walking backward thing wasn’t the best idea in my current state. I stumbled, just barely managing to catch myself, but my stomach felt like it had plopped down to the ground anyway. I didn’t look at him, knowing I probably looked twice as foolish as I felt, which was a lot.

I took a steadying breath, afraid I might be sick again.

The funny thing about alcohol . . . when it makes you feel good, you feel amazing. But when it makes you feel bad, you’ve never felt worse. Not just the nausea, but all of it. I might be a piece of work, but I knew myself well enough to know that if I went back to my dingy hostel—mattress springs pricking at my back, the cacophony of snoring roommates, the threadbare blankets—it was a recipe for hitting rock bottom.

Most hostels were devised so that you met other people, and yet they were the loneliest damn places in the world. Everything there is temporary—the residents, the relationships, the hot water. I felt like a flower trying to plant roots into concrete.

Nope. I needed to walk off the alcohol before I went home if I wanted to avoid a breakdown of child-star proportions. And this time, I should walk facing the right direction.

After only a few steps, my tagalong was right at my side. I scowled and tried to walk faster, but my stilettos weren’t having that. And I didn’t trust myself not to face-plant into the cobblestone with the kind of night I was having.

And though I wouldn’t admit it to anyone, I was a little glad for the company.

“What’s your name?” I asked.

He arched one dark eyebrow.

“You waited long enough to ask that.”

I shrugged. “Names aren’t exactly the important bit in places like this.” I gestured behind us to the bar we’d just left. “And, honestly, I couldn’t care less.”

Or that’s what I was telling myself. And him.

“So, then why ask? If names aren’t important and you don’t care?”

“Well, first, we’re no longer in said bar. And second, you’re following me, and I’m asking questions to fill the silence because otherwise things will get awkward. And talking keeps me from thinking about how you’re probably a serial killer, hence the whole following thing.”

“From a knight in shining armor to a serial killer.”

“The nice-guy bit could be an act. And you definitely look like you could be dangerous.”

“Are you always this honest?”

“Not even close. It’s the alcohol talking. Totally powers down my filter.”

The smile was back in his eyes, and maybe it was because I was drunk, but this guy didn’t make a lick of sense. That should have worried me. Maybe there really was something off about him. But at the moment, my brain was full just trying to stay upright and breathe.

He said, “I’ll tell you my name if you’ll tell me something about yourself.”

“Like what?” My pin number?

“It doesn’t matter. Something else honest.”

I couldn’t seem to walk in a straight line. My path kept veering toward his. Probably because I was drunk. Or his muscles were magnetic. Both completely plausible options.

My arm brushed his, and the sensation went straight to my head, electric and fuzzy, so I said the first thing I thought of.

“Honestly? I’m tired.”

He laughed once. “That’s because it’s almost dawn.”

“Not that kind of tired.”

“What kind of tired, then?”

“The bone-deep kind. The kind of tired that sleep doesn’t fix. Just tired of . . . being.”

He stayed quiet for one, two, three steps down the narrow, echoing street. Then his pace slowed, and I could feel his eyes on me. I strained my peripheral vision to see more of him. He said, “You don’t show it.”

“I don’t show much of anything.”

Three more silent steps.

He said, “I bet that gets tiring, too.”

What was I doing telling him this shit?

I looked over at him. My stilettos apparently weren’t safe unless I was watching them, because they slipped between two stones on the street. My ankle turned for the second time that night, and I teetered sideways. I reached out to try to balance myself on his shoulder, but I was falling away from him, and I was too slow. Luckily, he was faster. He turned and caught my elbow with one hand and wrapped the other around my waist. He pulled me upright, and I could feel a stubborn blush creeping up my neck. I had no problem playing the ditzy blonde to get what I wanted, but I hated that I was living the stereotype unintentionally at the moment.

“How are your cheeks?” he asked.

I blinked, hyperaware of his hand around my waist and the long fingers that could easily have skated farther down my body. Just thinking this had my heart racing to catch up with my thoughts.

“Can you feel them?” he added.

Oh, those cheeks. Disappointment doused the longing flame in me.

The hand that had been tucked around my elbow came up and grazed the curve of my cheek in reminder. And the flame was back.

“They, um,” I swallowed, “just feel a bit heavy is all.”

His eyes pinned me in place for a few seconds. There was so much behind that stare, more than there should be from a guy I’d just met tonight (if vomiting in front of him counted as meeting, since I still hadn’t even gotten his name).

He righted me, and his warm hands left my skin.

Resisting the urge to pull him back, I said, “Your turn.”

“My cheeks feel fine.”

I smiled. “I meant your name.”

He nodded and started walking again. I followed, more careful now of where I placed my feet.

“Most people call me Hunt.”

I took a few quick steps and caught up to him.

“Should I call you that? Am I most people?”

He pushed his fists into his pocket, and his strides grew even longer. He glanced back at me once before focusing on the narrow stone street ahead of us.

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