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The Trouble With Love releases MAY 15TH!
1 year ago . . .
There’s a lot to be said about the way we handle betrayal. Some people lick their wounds and walk away, while others, like myself, lick tequila off some random woman’s stomach before downing shots of Patrón.
I shake my head after the fifth shot. I haven’t done this since I was in college, which feels like a lifetime ago even though it’s only been a few years. One thing I’d definitely never done was go to a bar by myself. There’s something freeing about the experience of not having to share women with my friends, of not worrying about babysitting anyone, and the likelihood that I’d get into a fistfight was at a minimum without them around to start one.
The woman on the bar sits up and smiles wide at me. I blink a few times to focus my eyes on her, and when I do, I hold up my hand in a peace sign, and walk away without giving her a second glance. Sliding into a booth, I ask for another drink—bourbon this time. I put my face in my hands and take a deep breath.
My God. How did I end up here?
The week started out promising, but on Tuesday night things took an ugly turn. Paola was crying when I got home and my initial thought was that she wasn’t pregnant—again. We’d been trying for two years now and had remained optimistic for most of that time, but I could tell it had been wearing her down for a while now. I hugged her and pushed her hair away from her wet cheeks, and then she dropped the bomb on me—she’d been seeing someone else for six months. She said it casually, as if married people were allowed to go off and see other people. Then she’d shown me the positive pregnancy test. I demanded proof that it wasn’t mine. She demanded a divorce. On Wednesday, she took those words back. I got drunk. On Thursday she started packing up her shit, saying she was moving in with Marcos. I called my lawyer. Got drunk again. And today I am on a similar trajectory.
Movement in my booth makes me lower my hands from my face. I blink a few times as a blur of red slides into the booth across from me. She sets down a pitcher between us, pours two glasses, and slides one over. I take it.
“You got a pitcher of vodka?”
I take a healthy gulp and cough, narrowing my eyes. “This is water.”
“Surprised you can even tell what it is, considering the state you’re in.”
“What state is that?” I frown. “And who the fuck are you to judge me? You don’t know my life.”
“You’re right. I don’t know your life.” She raises an eyebrow. “Anything you want to talk about?”
“Why would I talk to you?”
She shrugs. “Better than talking to yourself like you’ve been doing for the last ten minutes.”
“So, you decided you should come over here in hopes that I’d spill my guts to you?” I eye her suspiciously. Is she one of Paola’s friends? Is this a setup? I will my eyes to focus on her. No, I’d remember this woman. She has long, thick, wavy blond hair. The kind of long and thick I’d fist and grip as I fuck those beautiful full lips of hers. Her nose is small and thin and her cheekbones are defined and pink. I can’t really tell how old she is with all that makeup.
“How old are you?”
“Twenty-five.” She frowns. “Why?”
“You sit here uninvited, bring me water, question me about my life.” I take a big gulp of the unwelcome water. The bourbon I ordered is taking too long. “It seems like a childish thing to do.”
“Oh.” She glances away, sipping on her water as if it’s the finest Champagne.
“You don’t drink? Is that it? You’re one of those?”
Her eyes flash back to mine. “I drink when I want.”
“Why aren’t you drinking now? You’re at this bar, wearing a fuck-me-red dress, with that fuckable pout and those long lashes, sitting across from me drinking fucking water. What’s your deal?”
“I’m glad you find me so fuckable,” she says, looking right at me, into me even. “I’m meeting someone here and I don’t want to be drunk when he gets here, so I decided on water. You looked like you needed company, so I sat here. I can move if my presence is really bothering you that much though.” She reaches for the pitcher.
I put my hand over hers, our eyes meet—both startled by my move—and lock. “Stay.”
She takes her hand from beneath mine and sits back hesitantly. I drink more water. Get more sober. Watch her closer. She’s looking everywhere but at me now.
“You think your date stood you up?”
She shrugs. “Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“He’s a fucking idiot.”
Her gaze flies to mine. I can’t tell if her eyes are brown or green, but they’re fucking gorgeous. She looks innocent. Definitely too innocent for me.
“He is an idiot,” she says after a beat. “But he’s also busy.”
“He shouldn’t be too busy for you.”
“Yeah, well.” She shrugs and licks that perfect pout again. “You’re here by yourself?”
“Do you always get this drunk?”
“Again with the judgments.”
“Sorry.” She bites her bottom lip.
“You have the most incredible fucking lips.”
She looks away, but the blush that covers her face is impossible to hide.
“You’re really twenty-five?”
“Twenty-three.” She licks her lips again. “Today’s my birthday.”
“Well, shit. Happy birthday, twenty-three.” I exhale. I remember my twenty-third. Barely, but I know it was fun. “What’s your name?”
Her eyes shift to mine again. “Elizabeth.”
“Is that your real name?”
I chuckle. This girl is way too innocent. She can’t even lie about using a fake name.
“What’s your name?”
She nods, sipping on her water. “You look like a Ben.”
The waitress comes over with my drink. Fucking finally. I’m definitely closer to sober than drunk now and suddenly I don’t want to get obliterated. I sip this drink slower than I did the last. The waitress addresses Elizabeth across from me.
“You sure you don’t want anything harder?”
“Thank you.” Elizabeth smiles, shaking her head, her eyes on the waitress as she walks away.
“I can give you something hard right now,” I say.
Her eyes widen as she turns to me. “Did you seriously just say that?”
“Wow.” She shakes her head. Her laughter sounds more like disbelief than amusement as it huffs out of those lips, but her eyes are twinkling. “I’ve heard some shit, but that right there is classic douchebag.”
“Classic douchebag?” I bite back a laugh. “I wasn’t aware there were different types of douchebags.”
“Oh, there are plenty,” she says, “but normally out-of-this-world good-looking guys stick to classic douchebag.”
“You think I’m out-of-this-world good-looking?”
“And a douchebag.”
“I think I’m okay with that.” I sip my bourbon and set it down. “You want some?”
She eyes it like she does, licking her lips as she examines it.
“It’s only bourbon. It’s not spiked or anything,” I say, in hopes to settle her nerves. If anything, it makes her eyes widen as if she hadn’t considered that possibility.
“I’m fine.” She sits back, shaking her head.
I call the waitress over and order Elizabeth a drink to match mine.
“You didn’t have to do that,” she says under her breath. “But thank you.”
Her drink comes at lightning speed. The waitress smiles at her and walks away again.
“You know her?”
“Jana?” She glances at the waitress’s retreating back, a smile on her face. “Yeah. She’s good people.”
“Seems like you’re good people.” I drink, eyes on her as she sips on her own. “I’ve been coming here for years and I’ve never seen anyone get VIP treatment,” I say. “And this is coming from a VIP douchebag.”
She snorts. “VIP douchebag.”
“Happy birthday.” I lift my glass and clink it against hers. She blushes like she didn’t remember she’d said that.
“So, birthday girl, what do you want for your birthday?” I ask. “And how long are you going to wait for the non-classic douchebag who stood you up?”
“He’s worse than any douchebag.” She sighs. “I’m done waiting. And the only thing I really want is a good lay.”
My brows shoot up. Little Miss Innocent is straitlaced and straightforward and it’s such a fucking turn-on. “That can be arranged.”
“You’re too drunk to be a good lay.”
“I take offense to that. Even in my most drunken state I’d probably be a better lay than half the men you’ve slept with.”
She laughs. “You’re so full of yourself.”
“I’m not. It’s the simple truth.”
I set the bourbon down and slide it away, then reach for hers. She slaps my hand away.
“Don’t you fucking dare.”
Her outburst makes me laugh. “I’ve been turned on from the moment you sat across from me, but this is taking it to another level.”
“That’s interesting.” She cocks her head. “Considering you looked like you were either crying or falling asleep when I sat across from you.”
“So why sit here?”
“Because I’d rather sit across from a guy who looks like he’s on the verge of a breakdown than sit alone anywhere else in this bar and have to deal with lame pickup attempts.”
“How are you going to get laid if you don’t let people try to come on to you?”
She shrugs again, taking another sip of her bourbon. “And there lies the crux of the story. I want to be wanted, but I don’t want to be pursued.”
“That’s such a woman problem.” I shake my head. “Why are women so fucking needy anyway?”
“Women are needy?” Her eyebrows shoot up. “Men are the reason the word needy even exists.”
“Right.” I scoff. “If needy is synonymous to men, how would you describe women?”
She says it with such sureness, that I almost think she might be right. Then I think about Paola and the situation we’re in because of her particular neediness. You’d think I didn’t try to fuck the woman nightly. She rejects me more than she accepts, and that’s why this is so much more difficult to process. I look at the woman sitting across from me. She probably won’t go home with me tonight, with the way she’s analyzing the fuck out of me, so I might as well have a normal conversation until I’m sober enough to take her to a diner. I’d kill for chicken and waffles right now.
“Have you ever cheated on a boyfriend?”
Her eyes widen. “No.”
“Does it disgust you? The thought of cheating?”
“I mean . . .” She sighs heavily and takes another sip of bourbon. “My parents were cheaters and my ex was a serial cheater, so yeah, it bothers me.”
“Which is why you’ve never cheated on a partner?”
She frowns. “I guess I’ve never understood the point of cheating. If you don’t enjoy the person you’re with, you might as well move on and sleep with other people at that point. It’s really not that difficult.”
I scoff. When she puts it that way, it seriously pisses me off. Fuck it. I bring the bourbon back, and just as I’m lifting it to my mouth, Elizabeth reaches out, her thin fingers tentative on my hand, her big brownish-greenish eyes on mine as she lowers the drink from my lips.
“Let’s go have sex.”