Out of the corner of my eye, I see the light flicker at the back of Dual. The door to Cash’s office opens and closes as he comes out into the club. He looks up and our eyes lock instantly. His expression is carefully schooled, per my request, but that doesn’t mean my toes don’t curl inside my work shoes. His eyes are blazing as they look into mine. My stomach does a flip and then he looks away, which is a very good thing. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be Cash who blew our cover, it would be me—when I leave my position behind the bar, march right over to him, plant my lips on his, and then drag him back to bed.
Tearing my eyes away from him, I force my mind back to my job.
“I got it,” Taryn chirps, reaching in front of me to grab a dirty glass from the bar top.
I smile and nod my thanks, but inside I’m picking her crazy, dreadlocked motives apart. She’s been nice to me all night and I’m not sure why. She’s never been nice to me. Openly hostile, yes. Spitefully devious, yes. But nice? Oh no. Before tonight, I would’ve assured anyone who asked that Taryn would rather sharpen her toothbrush into a shiv and shank me than even look at me.
And yet, here she is, smiling my way and bussing my side of the bar.
I’m not a naturally suspicious person, so . . .
Okay, so I’m a naturally suspicious person, but I have good reason to be. A lifetime of schemers, liars, selfish buttmunchers, and all-around icky people has made me a bit jaded. But I’m coming around.
Anyway, I am extremely curious to know what Taryn’s got up her sleeve. And there is something up her tattooed sleeve. I’d bet my life on it. Or her life. Either way.
I can almost see the wheels turning behind the blue of her almond-shaped, kohl-lined eyes.
The only thing I can do, however, is watch my back and keep my eyes open. She’ll slip up and show her hand eventually. Then I’ll know what’s going on in that twisted mind of hers. Until then, I’m more than happy to let her kiss my fluffy butt and help as much as she wants.
“So,” she begins casually as she makes her way back to me. “Got plans for tonight after work? I thought maybe we could hit Noir and have a drink, get to know each other a little better.”
All right, this is getting ridiculous.
I stare at her, working to keep my jaw from dropping open as I wait for the punch line.
Only there isn’t one. She’s serious.
She smiles and nods. “Of course I’m serious. Why would I ask if I weren’t?”
“Um, because you hate me,” I blurt.
Dammit! There goes keeping my eyes peeled and letting her continue on with her ruse.
“I don’t hate you. What on earth gave you that idea?”
Oh. My. God. Does she really think I’m that stupid?
I turn to Taryn and fold my arms over my chest. I’m not even supposed to be here. Cash and I just got back from my dad’s house in Salt Springs, Georgia, a few hours ago. Gavin, the part-time bar manager of Dual (Cash’s club in Atlanta), had my shift covered since Cash didn’t know if I’d be coming back or not. And yet here I am, working to fill in for Marco when I should be naked, wrapped up in Cash’s arms. I don’t have enough patience to play games.
“Look, I’m not sure who you’re trying to fool, but if it’s me, you might as well give it up. I’m on to you, Taryn.”
She opens her pouty ruby lips like she’s going to argue, but then she snaps them shut. Her innocently pleasant expression settles into something a little more normal for her and she sighs.
“Okay, I admit I was a little jealous of you when you started here. I don’t know if you knew this or not, but Cash and I used to date. Until recently, we were still . . . resolving some things. I thought you might be trying to get in the way of that. But now I know you’re not. Besides, I know he’s not interested in you. He’s got someone else on the hook, so it wouldn’t matter, anyway.”
That piques my curiosity. “Why do you say that?”
“What? That he’s got someone else on the hook? Because I’ve seen him with a blond girl a couple times and he’s been very, very distracted lately. And that’s not like him. He’s not the one-girl type of guy.”
“Oh, hell no! I knew that going in. Any girl who goes into a relationship with Cash thinking she’ll change him or that she’ll be the only one is dumber than a box of her long blond hair.”
“Blond? Because of the girl you think he’s seeing?”
Taryn shrugs. “Her, too, but Cash has a type,” she says, quirking one pierced brow at me and holding up a pale twist of her hair. “Blond.”
I nod and smile, trying my best to seem unaffected. Which I’m not, of course. Far from it. In fact, I’m so affected I feel like I might hurl right in Taryn’s pretty face.
“What makes you think he’ll never pick one of these . . . blondes and settle down?”
Her laugh is bitter. “Because I know Cash. That boy has wild blood. Guys like that don’t change. And girls can’t make ’em. It’s just the way they are. It’s part of why they’re so irresistible, too. Don’t we all want what we can’t have?”
I smile again, but say nothing. After a few seconds, she grabs my towel and swipes at a wet glass ring on the bar. “Anyway, I’m over it. I just wanted you to know I’m burying the hatchet.”
“I’m glad,” I manage to squeak out past the lump in my throat.
I busy myself with early cleanup duties. Dual is less than an hour from last call. How in the world I’ll make it that long is beyond me, but I know the first step is to keep busy. But no amount of busywork can silence the conflicting voices in my head.
You knew he was a bad boy. That’s why you tried to stay away from him and not get involved.
I feel dismay curl in the pit of my stomach like a cold, heartless snake. But then the voice of reason—or is it the voice of denial?—speaks up.
After all that has happened over the last few weeks, how can you doubt the way he feels about you? Cash isn’t the type to fake it. And what he’s said, what you’ve shared isn’t fake. It’s real. And it’s deep. And Taryn is a psychotic bitch who has no clue what she’s talking about. Maybe all that tattoo ink has gone to her brain.
While all of that is true, nothing I tell myself eradicates the feeling of unease that has settled into my bones. Into my heart.
One part of me—the rational, logical, uninvolved, hurt-too-many-times part—pops up to make matters worse.
How many times are you gonna fall for the same lines? The same kind of guy?
But Cash is different. I know it. Deep down. I remind myself that it’s completely unfair to judge a book by its cover. No matter how much experience I have with similar covers. Cash’s cover might be that of a bad boy, but the book, the inside, is so much more.
As I clean the grate under the beer tap, my eyes wander the thinning crowd and dark interior of the club, looking for Cash. Wouldn’t you know that when I find him, a busty blond bombshell is throwing her arms around his neck and rubbing her skanky little body all over him. I grit my teeth against the urge to jump over the bar, march right over there, and snatch her bald-headed.
But my anger fades into acute distress when I see Cash smile down into her face. I see his lips move as he speaks to her and my heart springs a leak. It makes me feel somewhat better when he reaches up to unwind her arms from around his neck and then take a step back from her, but it’ll take more than that to get Taryn’s unwelcome words out of my head.
My mood circles the drain for the next hour and a half. Even the fairly likable personality Taryn has adopted when she’s not being an utter bitch doesn’t help. I even start thinking to myself that maybe it would be a good idea to go back to my townhouse for the night.
An hour later, as I wash the sliced-lemons container on my end of the bar, I’m still pondering my options while debating the likelihood that I have undiagnosed bipolar disorder. A shot glass slides across the bar in front of me. I look up to see Taryn at my right, grinning, holding a glass of her own.
“Shhh,” she says with a wink. “I won’t tell if you won’t. It’s closing time, anyway.” She pulls a ten-dollar bill out of her pocket and throws it down.
At least she’s paying.
Normally, I would politely decline, but a shot to calm my nerves and ease my troubled thoughts sounds like a good idea. I wipe my hands on a towel and grab the tiny glass.
Taryn raises hers and smiles at me. “Salut!” she exclaims with a nod.
I nod and raise mine as well, and we both toss back our shot. I don’t need to ask what she poured. The vodka burns all the way down.
Making a deep, growly “ah” sound, Taryn grins at me. “Come out with me. You look like you need a night of frivolous fun.”
Before I can answer her, Cash’s voice interrupts us. “Olivia,” he calls from the doorway of his office. “Come see me before you go. There are a few things I need to discuss with you.”
“Okay,” I reply, my stomach tightening with a mixture of excitement, desire, and dread. He ducks back into his office and closes the door. I turn to Taryn. “Next time?”
“Sure,” she responds pleasantly. “I’ll just finish up and head out.”
She wanders back down to her end of the bar, and it occurs to me that we might actually make it to being friends one day.
I piddle around a little, slowing down enough that Taryn can finish before I go back to “meet” with Cash.
“Ta-da!” she exclaims, throwing her towel in the sanitizer to soak. “All right, Livvi, I’m outta here. Wish you could come, but duty calls.” She tips her head toward Cash’s office and rolls her eyes. Grabbing her purse from the shelf under the counter, Taryn circles around to approach me from the other side of the long, black bar. Planting her hands on the shiny surface, she leans forward and gives me an air peck like she’s kissing each cheek. “Night, doll.”
I’m still struggling with disbelief as I watch her walk through the door and out into the night, dreadlocks swinging. I decide that dramatic personality shifts like that can’t be healthy.
The instant the front door thumps shut, Cash’s office door opens. He emerges, his expression hard and determined. With purpose, he crosses the empty room and locks the double doors behind Taryn.
For a few seconds, all that I’ve been worrying about for the last couple of hours fades away like the space his long stride eats up so effortlessly. I’m mesmerized just watching him, the way he moves. His long, muscular legs flex with each step. His perfect butt shifts behind the pockets of his jeans. His wide shoulders are square and straight above his trim waist.
And then he turns toward me.
I might never get used to how handsome he is. It might never fail to leave me breathless. His nearly black eyes bore hot holes into mine. They don’t break contact as he crosses the room again, this time toward me.
He hops over the bar and lands beside me. Without a word, he bends, throws me over his shoulder, and carries me down the length of the bar and through the cutout on the other end.
My heart is pounding as he takes me through the office and into his apartment on the other side. My body is on fire with desire and anticipation for what’s to come, but my mind is still harboring some doubt and insecurity from earlier. I’m debating whether to say something to him and go back home for the night or just ignore every shred of rational thought and stay, when he sets me on my feet.
Immediately, his lips cover mine and all other considerations are gone. He pushes me back against the apartment door. I feel it click shut behind me.
He takes my hands and brings my arms above my head, pinning my wrists together in the long fingers of one hand. His free hand blazes a fiery trail down my side, his thumb grazing my already-aching nipple, then on to my stomach, where it slips beneath the hem of my tank top.
He flattens his palm over my ribs and moves it around to my back and down into the waistband of my pants. The fit is loose there, so it’s easy for him to slide into them, then down into my panties to cup my bare butt.
He pulls me against him, grinding his hips into mine as he sucks on my lower lip. “Do you know how hard it was to let you work tonight? To know that I can’t touch you or kiss you or even watch you?” he pants against my open mouth. “All I could think about was what you look like naked and the little noises you make when I stick my tongue inside you.”
His words make the lowest part of my belly fill with heat and tighten. He releases my wrists, but rather than push him away, I thread my fingers into his hair and crush my lips to his. I feel him working at the button and zipper of my jeans, and excitement floods me.
“It’s only been a few hours and all I can think about is the way you taste, the way you feel wrapped around me. When you’re so hot and so ready. So wet,” he murmurs against my mouth.
Just as my need rises to fever pitch, a voice interrupts us.
“Nash?” It’s my cousin Marissa and she’s pounding on the interior garage door. Cash drags his lips away from mine and places his finger over my mouth to hush me. “Nash?” She bangs again. “I know you’re in there. The garage is open and your car is here.”
I hear Cash growl. “Shit! What the hell is she doing back?” he whispers.
My mind races. “What should we do?”
Cash sighs and leans back to run his fingers through his mussed hair. Luckily, his preferred style is kind of spiky and disheveled, so it’s not noticeable that my fingers have been in it.
My body aches with want, but my mind is already in gear for reality.
“Well, I guess the only thing to do is pretend like you’re closing up.”
“Okay,” I say, straightening my clothes and hair.
“I could kick myself for opening the garage door so early. I was gonna pull your car in after Taryn left.” He sighs again and shakes his head slightly. When he looks back at me, his eyes are smoky and hot. “We’re far from finished, though,” he promises, leaning in and lightly biting my shoulder. A bolt of electricity shoots through me and lands between my legs. He knows exactly what to do and what to say to tear me up.