I’d said hello and quickly skedaddled my butt over to the bar even though I could tell they had a ton of questions, but honestly, seeing them had knocked me off guard. I wasn’t expecting to find anyone I knew and I sure as hell wasn’t expecting it to be not one but two guys whom I’d . . . well, been real close to at one point in time.
Talk about a wee bit awkward, considering I never really knew where I stood when it came to Cam and Jase Winstead’s girlfriends. I’d discovered, a long time ago, that a lot of girls inherently weren’t fond of other females their boyfriends had been involved with, no matter the seriousness of the prior relationship or lack thereof. Not every girl was like that, but most . . . yeah, most were.
Which was something I found . . . well, really fucking stupid.
Most girls were some guy’s ex at some point in their life. So they were just hating on themselves.
So I tried to stay out of their paths when we were all at Shepherd, and that worked right up until the night I’d found Teresa—Jase’s girlfriend and Cam’s little sister—screaming hysterically after she found the body of her dorm mate. Ever since then, even though Jase and I hung out casually for a little while, Teresa had been bound and determined to be my friend. It did weird me out, and reminded me of a girl I had become friends with my junior year at Shepherd—Lauren Leonard.
Ugh. Just thinking her name made me want to throw my drink in someone’s face. She had pretended to be friends with me when she really just hated my guts because the guy she dated had kissed me a year before they even met.
And it hadn’t even been that remarkable of a kiss, surely not worth all the drama Lauren brought to my doorstep.
“I could ask you the same question,” I said finally, picking up my glass.
An easy grin appeared as Cam leaned against the bar, arms crossed loosely over his chest. “You know Calla Fritz, right?”
“I know of her.” I glanced over to where the pretty blond girl stood with her arm around the waist of a guy that had military written all over him. I would know. My dad had that look. The look that screamed, I know how to break every bone in your body, but I have a strong moral code that prevents me from doing that . . . unless you threaten one of my own. The guy with russet, wavy hair was really rocking said look.
“Her boyfriend Jax owns this bar. Used to be her mother’s, but that’s a long story.” Cam paused. “Anyway, Teresa’s good friends with Calla, so when she comes up to visit her, we tag along. And since it’s so close to Philly, it makes for a good trip.”
“Oh,” I murmured. Small world. “I just took a job at the Lima Academy and I’m renting a condo not too far from here.”
“For real?” Nick said, drawing our attention and causing my stomach to dip in a pleasant, twisty way. “You’re working for Brock ‘the Beast’ Mitchell’s trainer?”
My lips twitched at the evident awe oozing from Nick’s voice. Anytime Brock’s name was mentioned, that was pretty much the standard response. Brock was an up-and-coming mixed martial-arts fighter and he was a local boy. Everyone seemed to worship him. “Yes. But I haven’t met ‘the Beast’ yet. He’s actually in Brazil right now, from what I understand.”
Nick rested his elbows on the bar, his eyes drifting over me in a blatant perusal. “So, are you a mixed martial-arts fighter then?”
I tipped my head back and laughed. “Uh, no. I took a job in the offices. I’ll be assisting their executive.”
“Nice,” Cam replied. “That’s what you majored in, right? Business management?”
I nodded, not entirely surprised that he remembered. We had been friends, and Cam was a good guy. So was Jase. Speaking of which, when I glanced over to where the crew was crowded around a pool table, it looked like Jase had Teresa in a . . . headlock?
“So how long are you guys staying up here?” I asked, taking a sip of my drink as a female bartender with pink-rimmed glasses zoomed past Nick, shooting him a look I didn’t quite understand.
Nick ignored it.
“We’re heading back Sunday.” Cam pushed off the counter. “Don’t be a douche,” he added, grinning when I rolled my eyes. “Get your butt off the stool and visit with us, okay?” When I nodded again, he looked at Nick. “You’re coming over to Jax’s tomorrow night, right?”
“Depends on what time I get out of here, but I’ll try.”
Interesting. So Cam and Nick were buddies. I was relieved to hear that. Cam was a good judge of character, and I already knew Nick was a helpful little charmer, but I felt like I could safely say that Nick wasn’t a serial murderer.
I cradled my drink as Cam sauntered back to the pool tables. My mind wasn’t made up on the whole visiting them thing yet. Maybe I would. Maybe I wouldn’t.
“Want another rum and coke?”
My lips curled up at the sound of Nick’s rich, deep voice. We’d been chatting on and off since I plopped my butt down on the stool, and he had seemed happy that I was there.
Total bonus points lottery with this guy.
“I’m good, but thanks.” The last thing I wanted to be was drunk. I smiled at him, pleased when his heavily hooded gaze dipped again. “Are you guys usually this busy on the weekend?”
I could see that small talk was something Nick excelled at, which made sense, considering his occupation. He was an equal opportunity charmer. Women flocked to him at the bar. The other bartender, the girl with the pink glasses, seemed to take it all in stride.
“Not sure if you really call this busy, but Saturdays usually bring a larger crowd.” He glanced down the bar before continuing. “So you went to school with them?” he asked, jerking his chin in the direction Cam had roamed off to.
“Yeah.” Leaning forward, I placed my elbows on the bar. “I had no idea they had connections here. Total surprise.”
“Small world,” he said, echoing my earlier thought. “But you’re not very close with them.”
It was a statement, not a question. “What makes you think that?”
“Well, if you were, I guess you’d be over there with them. Or . . .”
Nick was observant. “Or what?”
One side of his lips curled up as he folded his arms across his chest. The movement drew my attention. I was such a visual creature. Not that anyone would blame me right now. The black shirt he wore stretched around well-defined biceps. “Or you’d rather spend the time with me.”
The twisty motion in my belly cranked up a notch. “Am I that transparent?”
“In the best possible way.” He picked up a bottle. “I’m glad you did stop by. Every time the door opened last night, I looked up and hoped it was you.”
“Is that so?”
“I speak the truth.” His smile was lazy. “Did you finish unpacking?”
“Were there any more rat bastard combinations?”
I laughed. “There were a few more.”
“Kind of mad I missed out on them.”
“There’s always later.” I toyed with my glass as I met and held his stare. “So, Nick, do you have a last name?”