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“Stay and play with me, Anne.”

“No,” repeated Ev.

“Night, Mal,” I said. I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. But no way, come morning, would I be scraping myself out of his bed and doing the walk of shame down my friend’s hallway.

Nuh-uh.

“Anne, pumpkin, don’t leave me,” he wailed.

“Run. Go.” Ev ushered me toward the door. “He’s impossible when he gets like this. You’d swear he didn’t get enough hugs as a child.”

“Good to see you again, Ev,” I said.

She pulled me in for a quick kiss on the cheek. “You too.”

“I need sexual healing,” Mal continued behind us. He then did a new dance. This one consisted of rhythmic pelvic thrusting while his hand swung through the air, mimicking spanking someone’s ass. The “Oh yeah” and “harder baby” only made it better. If ever a vagina was going to sit up and take notice, this would surely do it. The man had all the moves.

“You need some f**king impulse control and coffee. That’s what you need.” David’s forehead crinkled. He pushed Mal back with a hand, bringing his  p**n o dance performance to a halt. “Better yet, when was the last time you actually slept?”

“I’ll sleep with Anne.”

“No, you won’t.”

“Yes, I will.” He raised a hand high. “For I am, Malcolm, Lord of the Sex!”

With a muttered oath, David went nose to nose with him. Immediately Ben stood, sending the brunette sliding onto the floor. Poor girl, she wasn’t having the best night.

“You heard Ev,” said David, getting in his face. “Not her friend. That’s not cool.”

Mal’s eyes hardened. “You cock-blocking me, Davie?”

“You bet I am.”

“That’s not okay, bro.”

Ben slung an arm over Mal’s shoulders, ruffled his hair. “Come find another toy.”

“I am not a child.” Mal pouted.

“How about her?” Ben pointed to a sleek blonde who smiled and preened in response. “I bet she’d like to meet you.”

“Ooh, she’s shiny.”

“Why don’t you go ask her what her name is?” suggested Ben, patting him on the back.

“Do I need to know her name?”

“I’ve heard it helps.”

“Maybe for you,” Mal scoffed. “I just call out my own name during sex.”

Laughter broke out across the room. Even the corner of David’s mouth started twitching.

But when it came to women, Mal was clearly a whore. I’d seen more than enough to confirm it. David and Ev had done me a favor, warning him off. Jealousy didn’t hit me in the gut when he leered at the other woman. Something else did. I don’t know what it was, but it was definitely something else.

Weirdest night of my life. Hands down, this was the absolute winner.

Wait till I told Skye about it when I got home. She’d laugh her ass off. Shit, no she wouldn’t. Mal’s antics had momentarily made me forget all about her. Surprisingly enough, as annoying as he’d been, he kept making me smile.

The man himself apparently remembered me again then. I stood ensconced between Evelyn and Lauren as if I needed protecting. Maybe I did. All I know is, when he looked at me my mind went far, far away.

What was it about bad boys? Someone needed to invent a cure.

My lust object gave me a wink. “See you later, crazy eyes.”

CHAPTER FOUR

“The skank unfriended me too,” said Reece, staring at the shop’s computer, sitting on the front sales counter. Facebook sat open on the screen in all its blue brilliance.

“Bitch,” I muttered.

Skye had a new name and it wasn’t nice. Much deserved, but not nice.

Between Reece and I, we’d called everyone who might have known where she’d gone. Lucky it’d been a quiet Saturday morning so far. We’d had no luck with our search. People either didn’t know or weren’t saying. Everyone sounded sorry. But no one could, or would, help. Some days, humanity sucked.

“I think we should stop,” I said.

“What? Why?”

“Think about it. Realistically, what would I even do if I found her?” I crossed my arms and leaned my hip against the counter. The pose was all the better for holding my shit together. “Slapping her silly is illegal. As nice as it would be to rip her a new one, it won’t get me my money back. There’s no point going to the police because it’s just her word against mine. I’m screwed.”

“There’s the defeatist attitude I’ve come to know and love.”

“Shuddup.” I smiled.

Reece smiled back at me, little lines appearing at the corners of his eyes behind his cool-guy thick-rimmed black glasses. A dimple popped in his cheek. He had an awesome smile. No matter how many times I’d seen it, I’d never quite become inured. Though, upon reflection, it didn’t make me stupid like Mal’s cocky grin.

Huh, interesting.

There was, however, a lot to be said for not being reduced to brain-dead hormonal mush by a man. Reece and I were solid. Though, for some reason, the usual rush I got from being around him was missing. Still, I barely knew Mal. Reece was real. Mal was just a dream on my teenage bedroom wall.

And since when did I compare Reece’s smile to anyone’s?

“What was the party you went to?” Reece asked, scratching his head in his usual adorable manner. His dark hair flopped over his forehead and I just knew we’d make great babies together one day. Marriage would never be in the cards, not for me. The institution meant so little. But there was a lot to be achieved just by living in sin, by being a life partner.

Reece would make a great life partner.

When Lauren had hinted at my having a thing for Reece last night, she might have known what she was talking about.

Ah, Reece.

I’d worked at Lewis’s bookshop since moving to Portland two years ago. Lizzy had asked me to come out for a while, to help her settle in. Obviously, I was still here. I liked being close to my sister and Portland was a cool city. I liked my job and the friends I’d made. Everything was better here.

“Lauren invited me to drinks at Ev’s,” I said.

Reece’s chin retreated in what appeared to be amazement. “The girl that married the dude from Stage Dive?”

“That’s the one.”

“And you didn’t invite me? Damn, A. I like a couple of their songs. That San Pedro album wasn’t bad. Their new stuff is shit, though, gotta say.”

“I love the new album. “Over Me” is a great song.”

He snickered, the corner of his mouth lifting. “It’s a song about someone doing your friend.”

“I choose to ignore that aspect.”

An elderly woman in tie-dye wandered in, heading straight for the self-help/philosophy section. Two teenagers started making out next to the new cookbook display. Sweet, but this was hardly the place for it. When a hand wandered too far south I cleared my throat, loudly. “Keep it above the waist, boys.”

The bell above the door jangled crazily as they bolted from the shop at light speed. One turned on the most amazing blush. I almost felt bad for him. Guess he’d wanted that grope real bad.

Reece chuckled. Well, he might. He picked up regularly within these four walls. A habit he’d hopefully grow out of one day soon. “Calm down. They weren’t hurting anyone.”

“There’s a time and a place.”

The little bell above the door dinged again as about the last person I expected strolled on in. Evelyn entered with a cup of coffee in hand and a hesitant smile on her face. Despite only working a couple of blocks away, I don’t think she’d ever been in the shop before. For certain, she’d never delivered coffee to me. If that was what was about to happen.

I stared in surprise.

Reece perked up. Then he spotted her humongous wedding engagement ring combo and perked back down again. Coming in from across the river, he didn’t go past Ruby’s Café like I did. Ev was unknown to him.

“We missed you this morning,” she said, sliding the tall cardboard cup of coffee onto the counter in front of me. “You didn’t stop by for your regular. Figured I’d bring it to you.”

“You’re wonderful. I woke up late for some reason.”

“Fancy that.” She smiled.

I took a sip of the superhot brew. Perfect. It was f**king perfect. Evelyn was basically the patron saint of the coffee bean. What I’d do in a few weeks when she left to go on tour with the band, I had no idea.

Cry, most likely.

Ev’s long blond hair was tied back in a braid. Like me, she wore head-to-toe black. Only she wore a pencil skirt while I’d gone for skinny jeans. “Ruby’s Café” was plastered across her bounty of boobs while “Lewis’s Independent Book Store” was written over my more sedate mounds. Apart from the chunk of ice on her finger she could have been any other local girl. Why she kept working as a barista when she’d married a millionaire I had no idea and it wasn’t my place to ask.

I turned to introduce her to Reece but he’d taken the opportunity to disappear out back, all interest in Ev gone as soon as he saw the ring.

“I also wanted to apologize for last night,” she said, resting her arms on the counter.

“What for?”

“The part where Mal tackled you onto the floor, mostly. Unless there’s something else I missed I should also be apologizing for?”

“No.” I waved her words away, smiling. No need to bring up my shouting abuse at her guest earlier in the evening. “That was fine. He was just playing.”

“Yeah. He’s kind of like a puppy on steroids. Doesn’t know his own strength.” She looked around the shop, face open, curious. “This place is great. Why haven’t I been in here before?”

“Time, probably. When you weren’t working you were studying. Now you’re married.”

“True.” She beamed. “It was good to see you last night, Anne. I’m glad to hear Mal didn’t do any permanent damage.”

“No, I’m fine. And thank you very much for the coffee. I seriously needed it. I don’t know how you handle getting up so early after the late nights.”

She lifted a shoulder in a half shrug. “Things wound down pretty much straight after you left. Ben and Mal went out, taking everyone with them. David and I crashed. We don’t do the party thing often. If we did I’d be ruined this morning.”

“Ah.”

“Sooo, David said you were talking to Mal out on the balcony for a while.…” Which was about when her coffee-bearing visit started to make sense.

“Yeah, I was,” I said. “And then David asked me if he’d said anything. I still don’t know what that was about.”

Ev’s lips pressed tight. “Mm.”

“He sent you to ask me about it,” I guessed. Correctly, if the flash of guilt in her eyes was any indicator.

“You deserved coffee, anyway. But yes, he did ask if I would mind talking to you.”

“Okay.” I licked my lips, buying some time to get my thoughts in order. Out of sight my foot fidgeted, doing its best to wear a hole in the carpet. “Honestly, we didn’t talk about much, nothing particularly personal or private. Just some nonsense about my ex-roommate.”

“Lauren mentioned.” Pity filled Ev’s eyes.

I shrugged. “Yeah, never mind. I’ll figure it out. But really, Mal and I didn’t talk much about himself. Mostly, he just teased me.”

“He does that.” For a moment longer, she looked at me. Trying to gage the truth, I guess. She was clearly pretty worried about Mal, but the fact was we didn’t know one another well enough for this sort of heart-to-heart. It felt awkward, stilted.


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