He shook his head and a strand of dark hair toppled across his forehead. “I have a place on the other end of town. I’m just here, waiting to help pretty ladies carry boxes into their apartments.”
“Well, that’s a real shame.”
His eyes flared, deepening the light green irises. A moment passed as his gaze held mine, and then his lips parted. “That it is.” Lifting his hand again, surprise shuttled through me as he touched my cheek, dragging his thumb to the corner of my mouth. “You had some dust there. All gone.”
My pulse kicked up, and as I stared at him, for the first time in my life I was absolutely dumbstruck. I was bold. Hell. My pappy said I was as bold as brass balls. Not the greatest imagery there, but it was true. When I wanted something, I worked for it. That mentality had been ingrained in me since childhood. Grades. Dance squad in high school. Boys. A degree. The career. But even in all my boldness, this man rocked me a little, and right off my game.
“I’ve got to get going,” Nick said, lowering his hand. The smile on his face, that crooked half smile, said he clearly knew the effect he had. He headed for the door and glanced over his shoulder. “By the way, I bartend at this place not too far from here. It’s called Mona’s. If you get bored . . . or want to rethink your ability to string curse words together on demand, you should come visit me.”
I knew how to read guys. It was definitely a honed skill, and he was extending an invitation. Just like that, he put it out there, and I liked that. My own smile was slight and most definitely mirrored his. “I’ll keep that in mind, Nick.”
A fine layer of dust coated my arms as I stepped back from where I’d piled the last of the broken-down boxes, lifting my hands to my face just in time. The sneeze powered out of me with enough force that my ponytail flipped over my head and nearly smacked me in the face.
Bent over at the waist, I waited a few seconds. Another sneeze was building, and I wasn’t wrong. I sneezed again, surprised that I hadn’t knocked over the stacked boxes with that one.
Straightening, I flipped the ponytail over my shoulder and took a moment to let it all sink in, past the dust and the skin, even all the way to the bone. I’d finally done it.
Not to some apartment in the same town I grew up in or went to college in, but to a clear, different state, and for the first time in twenty-three years I wasn’t within a twenty-minute drive of my mama. Even at college, I’d lived in a dorm that was no farther than a quick trip to her house. It had been hard—harder than I realized it would be. Since I was fifteen, it had been just my mom and me. Leaving her, even though that was what she wanted, had been difficult. There were tears, and that had been a big deal for me. I rarely cried. I just wasn’t that . . . emotional of a person.
Unless one of those damn ASPCA commercials came on the TV, especially the one that featured that “Arms of an Angel” song. Ugh. Then there were tiny ninja onion peelers lurking under my eyes.
After two whole days of unpacking, I was done, and when I looked around me, I felt damn good about what I’d accomplished.
The one-bedroom condo was pretty sweet even though I’d really wanted a two-bedroom. I needed to be sensible for once in my life, though, and by sticking to a one-bedroom, I was saving bank. It had a great galley kitchen, stainless-steel appliances, and gas stovetop—a gas stovetop I’d probably never use due to my irrational fear of blowing myself up.
But the living room and bedroom were spacious, and I was also pretty sure a cop lived here, because there was a cruiser in the parking lot on and off since I moved in two days ago.
And someone who lived here had a really hot friend named Nick.
Walking over to where I’d left a framed picture on the kitchen counter, I wiped my dusty hands off on my cotton shorts and then picked up the picture. I carefully undid the bubble wrap, revealing the photo that rested safely underneath. Pressing my lips together, I ran my thumb along the silver frame.
A middle-aged, handsome man in beige fatigues smiled back at me, the endless golden desert in the background. A message in a black Sharpie was scrawled next to him.
Not nearly as beautiful as you, Stephanie.
I bit down on the inside of my cheek and walked the picture into my bedroom. The gray bedspread and the white, aged furniture had been a gift from Mom and my grandparents. It gave the whole room a comfy, cottage feel.
Heading for the shelf I installed just above the TV that I’d centered on the dresser, I stretched up, giving the photo a new home next to another special photo. It was of the girls from college and me, at Cancun during our last spring break. A grin tugged at my lips.
The black bikini I’d worn barely covered my boobs. Or my butt, if I remembered correctly—actually, that was about all I recalled of that spring break. Well, that and those twins from Texas A&M. . . .
Everything was definitely bigger in Texas.
On either side of the photos were gray candles, and I thought it all looked good.
Like they belonged.
I stepped back and for a few moments I stared at the photos and then turned away with a heavy sigh. The clock on the nightstand told me that it was way too early in the evening to call it a night, and despite unloading everything, I wasn’t tired. My mind wandered to Nick and what he had said yesterday about the bar he worked at. When I drove out to get groceries last night, I had seen it.
Biting down on my lip, I shifted my weight from one foot to the next. Why not go out and have a drink? And a drink could lead somewhere quite fun. I was a hundred percent full supporter of no-strings-attached hookups. However, I never understood, and never would, the double standard that existed. It was okay for the guys to take charge of their pleasure, but not women?
Not in my world.
If Nick happened to be there and he happened to be as flirty as he was yesterday, then tonight . . . well tonight could become very interesting.
I was so going to take Nick home with me tonight and do all kinds of bad things to him—naked and fun things that should burn my ears right off my head. Or at least cause embarrassment since I was visualizing said things in a public spot.
Not in the very least.
A case of instalust had hit me hard. I was attracted to this guy on a pure primal level, and I was woman enough to admit that.
Moss-colored eyes met mine once more. Thick lashes lowered, shielding those extraordinary light green peepers. God, I’ve always had a thing for guys with dark hair and light eyes. Such a startling contrast that did very unhealthy things to all my interesting pulse points. I’d never really seen someone with his eye color. They were definitely green, but whenever he stepped out from under the bright lights over the bar and into the shadows, the color seemed to shift to an aqua blue.
Those eyes gave him some great bonus points.
“I’m way too curious, so I’ve got to ask. What in the world brings you to Plymouth Meeting, Steph?”
At the sound of the familiar voice, I twisted around on the bar stool and looked up, finding myself staring into the baby blues that belonged to Cameron Hamilton. When I first walked into Mona’s, I was shocked to see a few people I’d gone to college with. I was still stunned over the fact that Cam and crew were here, several hours away from their normal stomping ground, which had been Shepherd University.