My fingers stilled. “You have?”

One shoulder rose after a moment. “I did once before. Apparently I was wrong.” The smile reappeared and was quickly gone. “Way wrong.”

“So . . . like I said, you don’t like to get close.”

“No,” he countered with a frown. “That’s not the case.”

I arched a brow as I laughed softly. “Okay. Whatever.” Unfurling my legs, I stretched them out in front of me. As I wiggled my toes, I could feel his gaze on me, and even though I told myself not to, I glanced over. Our gazes met briefly, and then I looked away, swallowing. “By the way, I accept your apology.”

“You do?” he asked softly.

Refusing to look at him, I stared at my socks. “I still think you’re a dick, though.”

“Kind of hard to believe you really accept my apology if you think that.”

“Well, it helps that you’re really attractive. I’m shallow like that.” I was lying. I wasn’t that shallow, but I enjoyed his reaction.

A surprise laugh burst out of him. “I feel like I’m being exploited over here.”

“Don’t let my shallowness mean more than it does,” I advised, fighting a grin.

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“So I guess that means you—”

“If that sentence has anything to do with sex, I suggest not finishing it.”

Nick chuckled. “Actually, I was going to say I guess that means you . . .” He trailed off, and when I peeked at him, he had the most boyish grin I’d ever seen on a guy his age. “Okay, I lied. Totally had to do with sex.”

Smoothing my hands over my face, I hid my grin. “You . . . you are terrible.”

“Possibly.” A heartbeat passed. “I like the hair, just FYI.”

Luckily my hands were still on my face, so he didn’t see my smile grow. I’d forgotten that I had put my hair in pigtail braids when I got home. “Thanks,” I said, my voice muffled by my hands.

“Can I ask you something?” he asked.

“Sure.” I lowered my hands, twisting toward him.

He dipped his chin, causing that damn lock of hair to sweep across his forehead. “You were staring at me earlier, weren’t you?”

Dammit. I tried to fight it, but I felt warmth creeping up my neck. “You’re so arrogant. I was not staring at you earlier.”

“You say arrogant, and I say observant.” Nick shifted before I could respond, reaching between us and tugging one of my braids. He tugged gently, his fingers curling around the braid. “You and I cool?”

It took me a moment to answer and I wasn’t even sure why. Deep down, I already knew the answer, so I forced it out. “Yeah, we are.”

“Good.” He slid his fingers down, smoothing them over the loop, drawing my attention, and I was helpless to not watch his fingers work their way down. “Will I see you at Mona’s again?”

Drawing in a short breath, I lifted my gaze, but he was staring at my braid. “Maybe.”

“Say yes.”

My heart was starting to beat faster. “Yes.”

“That was easy.”

“To see Roxy,” I added, and I smiled when he laughed. “I’ll make sure I say hi to you if you happen to be there.”

“Make sure you do.” Smiling, he tugged on my braid once more and then flipped it over my shoulder. His hand lingered in the space between us and then he cupped my cheek. The move startled me as he dragged his thumb under my lip. “It’s really a shame.”

I frowned. “What is?”

“Us,” he said, his voice low as his thumb made another sweep, and my breath caught. “That you and I are the way we are. It’s a damn shame.”

Chapter 7

The smell of fried bacon and maple syrup caused my stomach to grumble like a monster straight out of a horror movie. It screamed, Feeeed meeee.

Stopping in front of the empty hostess station, I stretched up on the tips of my sneakers and scanned the booths for two somewhat familiar heads. The texts from Roxy and Katie had started Saturday evening, and I would’ve agreed to meet them Sunday morning right off the bat, but their escalating pleas and messages had been quite entertaining. At one point Katie had threatened to break into my apartment and draw a mustache on my face if I didn’t come.

The funny part was, I wouldn’t have said no to them. Sure, Katie, whom I’d only met briefly, seemed like she might be missing a few screws, but whatever. Who was I to judge? I missed my old friends and our weekly, or sometimes triweekly¸ meet-ups. Admittedly, I was a social creature most of the time, and the loneliness I’d been wallowing in wasn’t going anywhere.

I spotted Roxy and her blue glasses toward the back of the busy restaurant. The walkways between the booths were crowded with racing kids covered in sticky jelly and older people trying to rein them in as I made my way toward them.

Roxy’s hair was pulled up in a messy bun and her eyes squinted as she glanced up at me. “You seriously went running before you came here. You weren’t lying.”

“Nope. I try to run every day.” I sat beside Katie, who compared to Friday night was dressed down in a baby blue off-the-shoulder sweater that looked like sequins had thrown up on it. Her blond hair was pulled back in a low ponytail at the nape of her neck. “I have to work out,” I explained, placing my purse between Katie and me. “I eat like five starving guys in college. It’s actually embarrassing how much food I can consume in one sitting.”

Katie laughed. “I don’t have that problem. I can eat whatever I want and not gain a pound. Actually, I’d probably lose weight.” Her shoulders rose in a shrug. “Sucks to be you all.”

Roxy scowled at her. “You don’t need to rub it in, you know.”

“Don’t hate me because I was born this way.” Katie grinned when Roxy rolled her eyes. “Maybe it’s Maybelline. Maybe it’s Katie.”

I giggle snorted.

The waitress appeared at our table, clicking the pen she’d pulled out of the pocket of her apron. She took our drink order and then dashed off to fulfill it, her white sneakers squeaking across the floor.

“I’m glad you came,” Roxy said, propping her elbows on the table. “I was worried I was going to have to search you down and force you to come eat with us.”

I laughed again. “I’m pretty sure you’d have a hard time doing that.”

“I’m scrappy.” Roxy grinned. “I could take you.”

Thinking of the shiner I’d first seen her with, I decided she was probably telling the truth. “I’m glad you guys invited me.” I paused while the waitress returned with our drinks before disappearing again, then I said, “So, I know Roxy works at the bar, what about you, Katie?”

“At the club across the street from Mona’s.” Katie dumped a packet of sugar into her coffee and then picked up five more, managing to rip the tops off in one impressive swipe. “It’s a strip club.”

“Oh.” How had I not noticed a strip club across the street from Mona’s?

Katie dumped the sugar in her coffee. “I strip. I don’t dance. I take my clothes off for a living and get paid damn good money for it, too.”