My glass tinked back onto the bar. I swallowed the frilly vibrato in my voice. His eyes fixed over me.
Wasn"t it rude to stare" Wasn"t it equally rude to linger in silence like a tongue-twisted invalid who enjoyed the umbrella in her drink more than the liquor"
"This isn"t your normal night out." He was a good guesser.
He mocked me in dire amusement. "No, you don"t belong here. No, you aren"t meeting anyone. Or no, this isn"t your normal night out""
Oh, Christ. This was just embarrassing. I chugged the last golden drops of my peachtini. Might as well stumble out of the bar too. If I could find some spinach to stuff between my front teeth, my every nightmare would play out in the middle of a fetish club.
And yet, my mysterious stranger smiled.
Just a hint, but infinitely more controlled than my humble freak out.
Better to have him think I was playing coy than deliver the actual truth. I had no idea how to talk to a man like this.
We"well, wherever Rose and Martini happened to be"planned to come to Duchess for a laugh. He was here legitimately. He belonged here.
And he chose to sit next to me.
My stranger leaned over the bar, his biceps straining against the fabric of his shirt. His shoulders formed a barrier between me and the safety of the exit. The bartender set a drink before him. Gin and tonic" He hadn"t ordered it but he still had his drink delivered a hell of a lot faster than I was given mine.
"What"s your name"" His dark stare blended with the effortless baritone of his voice.
We"d planned to be Polly, Dolly, and Molly, but I"d suffered enough. "Morgan."
His eyes dipped over me again. I knew I was tiny, just a chocolate chip on the cookie called life, but I looked even smaller next to a monster like him.
Did he like that"
Why did he smile"
"Good evening, Morgan."
His evening washed over me. I had nothing in my arsenal as smooth. Not even a did you know that"s not really a trumpet in the band" It"s a cornet, and I think it sounds snazzy.
As if on cue, the sadistic quartet switched to a different song. Something tragically mellow that fostered the silence.
Meeting guys seemed easier in college. I couldn"t walk through a party without some fraternity pledge offering to buy me Natty Lights on his parents" semester allowance. But my stranger was no overeager kid looking for an easy score. He toyed with me"waiting for me to run away or drown in my drink. Two could play that game.
"So." I leaned back to get a better look at my companion. He welcomed the intrusion. Proud and vain. That could be trouble. "Come here often, stranger""
He chuckled. The pressure in my chest eased. I tugged the edges of my dress down, hiding the smooth darkness of my knee. He watched every movement, and my fingers dug into the material. I didn"t want him thinking I meant for the hem to creep up, exposing too much mocha. Or that I panicked if I revealed a little more than what was proper. Or that I did or didn"t want him checking out my legs.
This would be one bundle of humiliated anxiety to unravel in bed tonight.
"My name"s Anthony."
He cracked and smirked. Maybe I was better at the game than I thought. My cell chirped. I checked the text and groaned. Rose was my own personal town-crier, but she only ever gave bad news.
Sorry, we"re having a bit of a crisis. Life or death. Can"t make it. Another time"
Another time" This was our other time, making up for two almost-nights out.
Then again, Rose and Martini"s life or death situations were usually literal. They were the lucky few who"d managed a job outside the usual office nine-to-five. Unfortunately, they"d exchanged a desk job for the high-stakes life of a motorcycle club. It wasn"t legal or safe, but at least they were happy.
My mother"s voice echoed in my head. Do something with your life. Go back to school. Meet a man. If I was still talking to her, I"d have loved to bring home one of Rose"s bikers, just to watch the fireworks. But I never had the balance to ride a petal bike, let alone risk my neck on a hog. I didn"t even like bacon. Not exactly my scene.
I didn"t answer her text. The less I knew, the safer it was.
Anthony watched while I twirled the straw in my empty glass into a crumpled mess.
"Would you like another"" Anthony asked.
I looked up. The bartender awaited my order. I jiggled the phone. My hair escaped the bun, and the spiraling black curls bounced as I shook my head.
"No thanks. Something came up."
Anthony motioned, and, before I could argue, he paid my tab.
"Let me guess," he said. "Friends chickened out""