“Blanco,” he replied after a brief hesitation. “Do you?”

“Keith.” I grinned as he unfolded those arms. “I have another question for you.”

Moving in, he placed his hands on the bar. “Ask away.”

“Do you have a girlfriend?” My breath caught a little when he leaned in suddenly. Our mouths were close enough that we were breathing the same tiny patch of oxygen. “Or a boyfriend?”

Nick didn’t bat an eyelash. “Nope to both. How about you?”

Bonus points explosion!

“None,” I said, welcoming the tingle that swirled down my spine as his breath warmed my lips.

He tilted his head to the side, lining up his mouth with mine with just a fraction of an inch between us. I started to feel a little flushed. “You have plans tonight, Stephanie Keith?” he asked, voice deeper and rougher.

I shook my head as my pulse tripped all over itself in a happy little dance.

Nick’s grin spread into the kind of smile I knew left a trail of women in its wake. “You do now.”

Chapter 2


“Make sure you’re waiting for me,” he said with a slow grin, picking up two empty glasses as I rose from the bar stool. “I’m off at one. I’ll be there in twenty minutes or less.”

I didn’t respond as I backed away from the bar, giving him a little wave. There was no doubt in my mind that he would show up, and wicked excitement hummed through my veins. Smiling to myself, I wheeled around.

The girl with the pink glasses stood right in front of me, so close I almost plowed right into her. Behind the bar, she seemed much taller, but my five-foot-nine frame towered over her. A streak of pink in her hair matched her glasses, but that wasn’t all that I noticed. Up close I realized that she also had a faint black eye.

What the . . . ?

She shoved out her hand. “Hi, I’m Roxy.”

“Hi.” I took her hand, shaking it. “I’m—”

“Steph. I know. Your friends told me all about you,” she explained, and I immediately struggled to keep my expression blank as I stiffened. God only knows what they’d told her. “You went to college with them.”

“Yes.” My gaze flicked over her, to where Teresa and Jase were with Jax and Calla. Avery and Cam had already called it a night. “I was surprised to see them here.”

“I can imagine.” Roxy’s smile was warm and surprisingly real as she stared up at me. “Anyway, I heard that you had just moved here, so I wanted to say hi and that I also hope this isn’t your last trip to Mona’s.”

Okay. That was an odd statement. “I like the . . . vibe of this place, so I’d probably come back.”

“I’m thrilled to hear that.” Brown eyes brightened behind her glasses. “It’s got to suck moving to a new town and not knowing anyone.”

I nodded. “It kind of does. I don’t think you realize how important your friends are until you’re somewhere and none of them are there.”

Sympathy flickered over her face. “I know this sounds random, but every Sunday, Katie—a really cool albeit weird chick—and I get breakfast. You’re more than welcome to be a part of our threesome and sometimes foursome. Then you won’t be somewhere without any friends,” she finished with another wide smile.

Huh. She was really . . . friendly, but for some reason, I sort of felt like I was missing something. Like I walked into the middle of a conversation.

Before I had a chance to figure out how to respond to that offer, Roxy continued, “And also, Nick’s a really good guy.”

My expression started to lose some of its blandness. Was her overly friendly welcome linked to Nick? Obviously. Perhaps she liked him and had seen us chatting, making plans to get together later. There had been that weird look I’d seen her pass in his direction. Keep your enemies/competition close kind of thing? Some of the excitement that had been buzzing around in me dulled.

Goodness, I was so cynical. I was going to blame past experiences.

“Are you interested in him?” I asked, because even though I didn’t know her, I was new to this town, and the last thing I was going to do was step all over someone else’s shoes.

Roxy stared at me for a moment and then threw her head back, bursting into giggles as her ponytail swung. “He puts the ‘oh-la-la’ in the swoon, but I have a man I love very much, so no. Nick and I are friends. I just want to let you know that he’s a good guy and, well . . .” She trailed off, shrugging her shoulder. “I just wanted to say that.”

I really had no idea what to say to any of that. “Okay. That’s . . . uh, that’s good to hear.” I glanced over my shoulder, finding Nick staring in our direction. I turned back to Roxy. “Well, I’m going to head out of here. It was nice meeting you.”

“All right,” she chirped, smiling brightly. “Don’t be a stranger.”

Smiling, I stepped around her and waved in the general direction of where Teresa and Jase were and then hightailed my butt out of there. Crisp air greeted me, and I had to actually crank on the heat inside my car. Autumn was most definitely here and winter wasn’t too far behind it.

On the short trip back to the condo, my focus kept moving from the unanticipated run-in with everyone from Shepherd, to the very unexpected quick chat with Roxy, to what was most likely going to happen tonight.

I had no idea what to make of the conversation with Roxy. I still felt like I was missing something, and honestly, I wasn’t used to a complete stranger being that friendly or welcoming, especially to me. More than once I’d been accused of being standoffish and bitchy.

The truth was, it wasn’t that I was mean or unfriendly. I just generally sucked at small talk with people I didn’t know, and most important, I had a severe case of resting bitch face.

If I had a dollar for every time some random person told me to smile, I would have more money than the Queen of England.

As soon as I entered my apartment, I gathered up the boxes by the door and quickly carried them out to the large Dumpster behind the condo. As I tossed them into the opening, I stared out over the neatly manicured lawn. There wasn’t a lot of land since the tall trees were thick, stretching into the night sky, their bare branches reminding me of skeletal fingers. Turning around, I hurried across the parking lot. At night, with the sound of distant traffic, it was kind of creepy back here.

When I returned, I checked the clock on the stove and then hopped down the hall, toward my bathroom. There was time for grooming—there always had to be time for grooming.

Grinning, I grabbed a fresh razor from the cabinet below the sink and got down to business, all the while my stomach dipping and twisting into pleasant little knots. I felt a little crazy as I got ready, as if I had downed a case of energy drinks.

Nervous excitement hummed through me like a persistent hummingbird. I wasn’t unsure about what I was doing. Hell, I’d known people who’d hooked up after even less time between the first hello and good-bye. I wouldn’t be stupid about tonight. If we got to the point where our clothes came off or a condom was required, I had them if he didn’t.

The nervousness came from the fact that I was brutally attracted to him on a purely physical level. Nothing more.