As Lacey Kimmel pulled her Jeep into The Tavern’s parking lot, she broke into a surprised grin. Wow. The place had really changed.
The Tavern of her high school and post college days had been just an oversized dive bar with darts and pool tables, surprisingly tasty burgers and a killer jukebox. Now the front entrance boasted potted trees and reproduction gaslight lampposts, with an engraved wood and gold-plated placard that read “Tavern”, and underneath in smaller, discreet lettering, “Greenwich • Connecticut”.
Not surprising, really. Greenwich had always had the reputation of being “old money”, but she remembered a time when class lines were more blurred, when many middle class families like her own co-existed happily among the east coast’s wealthiest upper class. Now, real estate prices in her hometown were downright prohibitive, catering to the Wall Street and Madison Avenue commuter elite.
She found a spot between a BMW and a Lexus, turned the car off and texted Tasha, her best friend since high school and date for the night.
I think I’m at the wrong Tavern
Haha I know right? Be there in 5 - start drinking
Lacey smiled and did a last-minute assessment of her eye makeup in the rear view mirror. She climbed out of the car and smoothed down her black knit dress. Her Going-Out-to-Flirt outfit, she called it. Cap sleeves, mid-thigh length, paired with a dangly gold pendant and tan knee high suede boots, the dress hugged her body nicely and flattered her voluptuous figure without showing cleavage or too much leg.
Three young business types in suits exited the wooden double doors laughing and talking over each other. All three stopped as she approached, making an exaggerated grand gesture of holding the door for her.
“You are stunning. Have a wonderful night,” said one.
“Thank you,” Lacey smiled, as she passed between them. Yes. This was exactly what she needed. Thank God for Tasha. After Lacey had left Boston and returned to her parents’ house last weekend with all her belongings and a broken heart, Tasha had come right over the first night with two bottles of wine, burrito bowls from Chipotle and a ready ear.
“Fucking asshole!” Tasha had growled, as she listened to Lacey recount how she had discovered that her fiancé of two years, Paul, had been cavorting with not one, but three different girls during the years they shared a brownstone in Back Bay.
Paul had uncharacteristically left his cell phone behind on the counter one morning, and even though the ringer was set to silent, Lacey had started to see text alerts coming in.
April (3 text messages)
S (2 text messages)
Gym (2 text messages)
She may have been blinded by love, but she was smart enough to know that no one gets text messages from the “Gym”. She sensed in her gut that the life she thought she knew was about to disintegrate, so she called her part-time job at the gallery and said she was sick, which was becoming truer by the minute.
“April” was a name she recognized as an employee of Paul’s firm – an assistant of some sort in his department - young, and pretty in a sort of trashy, South Boston way…the type of girl that every guy at the office probably thought about banging but no one asked to dinner. Lacey had started there – called April on her office line and confronted her directly. Rattled, April had confessed, but said the affair was over because Paul had moved on to another new co-worker, Sienna. Bus, meet “S.”
Heartache and anger battled it out in the following hour as Lacey packed what she could of her things in suitcases, and shoved the rest in Hefty bags. She chugged some wine out of the bottle, then poured the rest on the kitchen floor. Then she dumped an entire bag of sugar on that because fuck him. It took four trips down to her back alley parking space to load her things into the Jeep. On the last trip she noticed a homeless man peering into the dumpster next door.
“Hey!” she called to him, “Wait here for a minute- I’ve got something for you.” The next trip down she lugged a trash bag of Paul’s nicest clothes, socks, shoes and coats, and set it at his feet. “Here,” she said, pressing three watches into his hand, “Sell these – they’re expensive.”
She then went up to their apartment for the last time, grabbed a power bar for the drive, and took out an unopened bottle of wine from the fridge. Placing his cell phone squarely in the center of the kitchen island, she smashed it hard three times with the bottle. “FUCKING. LYING. ASSHOLE!!” she screamed to the empty apartment. She considered the idea of tossing the phone out the window of her car when she hit the Mass Pike, but decided that leaving it there with the unopened texts still displayed through the cracks would be better. On top of that she placed her engagement ring. And walked out of that life, swearing to never fall for a cheater again.
Lacey made her way around the expansive brass and wood bar that was The Tavern’s centerpiece, weaving through flirty couples and lively after-work get-togethers, until she spied two free barstools. Dropping her purse on one, she slid into the other, setting her phone on the bar.
Instantly, a cocktail napkin appeared in front of her, and a bartender looking like the live version of Gaston from Beauty and the Beast gave her his winningest smile. “Assume you’re not alone, amiright?” he asked, expertly tossing another napkin in front of Tasha’s empty stool.
“Yeah, no- my friend’s coming,” Lacey answered, taking in the almost cartoonish physique and too-handsome face. Christ, Tasha was going to flip over this dude. Pretty boys and married boys, that was Tasha’s type.
“Gentleman? Lady friend?” Gaston inquired, obviously strategizing his tip game.
“Girlfriend,” she answered dutifully.
“Ah! Ladies’ Night Out,” he said with a knowing smile, “Shall we start without her?”
“Yes, actually, I’ll have a Stoli on the rocks, splash of soda and twist of lemon if you have it.”
Gaston looked surprised and slightly disappointed, as she probably crushed his dreams of setting them up for a long night of fruity girl martinis and shots with names like Slippery Nipples and Sex on the Beach.
“You got it,” he said, with a friendly slap on the bar, and turned to make her drink. She checked her phone again: no texts. Paul had stopped trying after three days, and was probably fucking “S.” or “Gym” at that very moment. She sighed, not out of missing him, but out of regret for the years wasted. How had she never suspected? Were all cheaters that good at hiding it? God, it was all so disheartening.
Since that fateful day, she’d wracked her brain for clues that she’d missed. They had risen to the surface, slowly, tiny bubbles of suppressed warning signs. They’d probably raised questions for a fraction of a second at the time, and she’d explained them away. Business trips that began on a Sunday. After work drinks “with the office” that went ’til midnight. The way he would abruptly end phone calls when she walked in the apartment door. Once, he had called her from a business trip in New York around eight p.m. and told her he was ‘going to bed early, so if he didn’t answer his phone later that night, that was why’. That one had stuck with her, pinging around in her head like a trapped bird. But he’d returned the next day, exuberant as ever to see her, with a collection of matted photographs he’d picked up from a New York street vendor to add to her collection. Of course he loved her. Of course it was nothing.
Lacey sipped her vodka and sighed with acceptance at the memory, at her own naiveté.
All at once, Tasha was there, hugging her, a whirlwind of blonde spiky hair and perfume. Her arrival had caused a stir in the collective conscience of the males in the vicinity. It always did.
“We’re back!!!!” she squealed, slipping into her barstool and shucking her leather jacket, revealing a silky tank that showcased her perfect cleavage and yoga-toned arms. Gaston appeared out of nowhere, as if summoned by her breasts. He was already enchanted.
“We’ve been waiting for you!” he gushed, “How lucky am I to have the two most beautiful women in town at my bar?”
Tasha skewered him with her best femme fatale smile and twirled her feather earring. “Something tells me you get lucky all the time.” A quick once over, a flirtatious tilt of her head, and she’d hooked him. “I’ll have a dirty martini with three olives,” she told him, “and a menu.” Lacey smiled to herself as Gaston once again looked a little thrown off his game.
“Anything for you,” he answered with a wink and hustled off to make her cocktail.
“Playa,” Tasha pronounced, watching his ass retreat, “But very yummy.” She sat back. “Well? What do you think of Tavern 2.0?”
“I can’t even believe it,” Lacey answered, looking around. “The floor isn’t sticky…no more popcorn machine…and I bet they fixed the wall in the women’s bathroom where you punched it…”
Tasha burst out laughing. “Oh my God, I was in a cast for months. Why I didn’t punch Greg’s jaw instead, I don’t know.”
“Well, you’d just gotten off the phone with him, and we’d already had several kamikaze shots, so…”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right. Pretty much standard protocol at that point.”
Two rounds and spring roll sampler later, the bar was in boisterous full swing. Lacey and Tasha swapped iPhones, dissecting every Facebook photo of both April and the wife of Tasha’s current, very married boyfriend, Frank. “Does she even work out?” Tasha sneered at April’s pictures, “She looks chunky to me.”
“She doesn’t have time,” Lacey replied, “She’s too busy fucking other people’s fiancés.” She peered closer at the photos Tasha had pulled up of Frank and his wife. “She looks older than him. She looks like the Long Island Medium.”
“Thank God we’re so perfect,” Tasha chuckled, and the two clinked cocktails in agreement.
Suddenly, something caught Tasha’s eye. “Holy shit, Lace- the McAvoy brothers are here – across the bar - with Tommy Finn.” Lacey turned in her seat. These were all high school names from ten years ago, boys she never knew personally, but had been ‘legends’ back in her teenage days when Greenwich High School was the whole world. Upperclassmen. Handsome. Star athletes.
Everyone knew the McAvoy brothers. There were three of them: Beau, Darren and Dane. All captains of their varsity football and basketball teams, all devastatingly good looking, and the object of many a daydreaming girl at GHS. Lacey didn’t know them personally, being at least two years younger, but the general consensus in town over the years was that Beau was “the smart one”, Darren was “the nice one”, and Dane was “the ladies’ man”.
“Who’s who?” Lacey asked surreptitiously, behind a sip of her drink.
“Well, you know Tommy – he was our year...The one in the tie is Beau, and the one in the T-shirt is Darren,” Tasha said, “Damn, those boys get finer with age!”
“I thought that was Dane...,” Lacey said, peering closer.
“No, no – Dane’s got long hair now – he’s like a painter or an electrician or something…I hear he’s pretty popular with the Real Housewives of Connecticut,” said Tasha. She grabbed Lacey’s knees impulsively. “Let’s send ’em a shot.”
“What?! No, no….they’ll think we wanna hook up...”
“Oh my God, what is this, 1955? Bartender!” Tasha waved Gaston over. He stopped mid-conversation, and reported back to Tasha like an obedient retriever. “Can we please send three Afterburner shots to those gentlemen across the bar?”
His expression betrayed that he was simultaneously impressed with her knowledge of mixology and jealous of other men piquing her interest. “That’s Aftershock cinnamon liqueur and 151, right?”
“You got it, love. Tell them it’s from two fans of the Greenwich High Cardinals.”
The girls sat back and watched the interaction unfold as Gaston chilled a shaker with ice, poured the two liquors in simultaneously, then expertly strained three perfect shots worth into waiting shot glasses. He set them in front of the guys, dutifully gesturing back across the bar to their benefactors. Lacey had to admit, the surprise and delight on their faces was worth it. All three raised the shots in a thank you, knocked them back, and after a quick, discreet huddle, abandoned their post and made their way around the bar to them. Lacey’s adrenaline kicked in as the three guys approached. It had been so long since she’d been in the game.
“Ladies!” Tommy Finn greeted the girls with familiar hugs, “Long time, huh?” Tommy was an affable and fun-loving guy, who had married his high school sweetheart and never left town. Tall and burly, he knew the McAvoy brothers through football. Beau and Darren were both stunning up close. Their pretty-boy faces from high school had matured and sharpened into devastating handsomeness. “Beau, Darren…”, he gestured towards the girls, “This is Lacey Kimmel and Tasha Friedland. We were in the same year.”
“Well thank you, Lacey and Tasha,” Beau saluted them with his bottle of Stella Artois, then smoothly gestured “another round” to Gaston with a twirl of his finger. Lacey felt like she was in tenth grade again, all giddy and excited to be in the presence of the popular upperclassmen.
Beau was stunning. Tall, with the build of a quarterback, his wore a lavender dress shirt paired with a dark grey textured tie. His close-cropped brown hair had the slightest touch of gel that made his whole look polished. When he gestured to Gaston, Lacey had noticed his Rolex because of her years with Paul and his obsession with expensive watches. His green eyes were intelligent and bespoke a confidence that teetered on conceit, but his charm tempered it. He casually rested hand on the back of Lacey’s stool.
“How’d your boyfriends let you two out looking so beautiful?” he said.
“We got out on early release for good behavior,” Tasha quipped, eyes not leaving Darren. He lit up, excited that she had directed he answer to him instead of Beau.
Of course she had, thought Lacey. Darren’s type was catnip to Tasha: Boyishly handsome, quiet and sweet. Lacey found it endearing that his “going out shirt” was a vintage Pink Floyd tee. Even though he shared the McAvoy genetic lottery looks, with a killer body to boot, his whole demeanor was low key and friendly. Tasha liked to tease players like the bartender, but only dated men who would worship her. Her married boyfriend, Frank, was borderline obsessed with her. She needed total control at all times.
“So, you live in Greenwich?” Beau asked Lacey, expertly picking up the pairing of Tasha and Darren.
“Well, yeah, now I do,” she answered, “I just moved back from Boston last week.”
“Oh yeah? Where you living?’
“My parents have an old barn on their property that’s being converted into a one-bedroom apartment, so I’m living there. It’s still not finished, because the contractors bailed on them, but once I get settled, I’m going to find a new construction crew to finish it.” Lacey still wasn’t one hundred percent sure that living on her parents’ property was the best move, but the rent was free while the place was being finished, so it gave her time to think about her future, save money, and make some headway growing her own independent curating business for photography.
“My brothers are contractors,” Beau offered, “McAvoy Construction – My brother Dane runs it and does most of the painting, and Darren’s in charge of the rest.” He slapped Darren’s arm with the back of his hand to extricate him from his flirtation with Tasha. “Lacey needs a contractor. You guys should give her a bid.”
“For real?” Darren asked, “Yeah, totally – give me your address and I can come out and look at it this week,” He fished in his wallet for business cards, handing one to her, and poising to write on the back of the second.
“That’d be really great,” Lacey said, “It’s 926 Round Hill Road.”
“Ooh, back country,” Beau chided her knowingly. “Back country” was considered the most exclusive area of Greenwich. Unlike the new, admittedly impressive developments of McMansions that boasted easy access to I-95, back country was home to the “old money” estates. Sprawling, private, multi-acre properties, often not visible from the heavily wooded and winding roads.
“No, no – it’s just the barn –you’ll see it – it’s the first building you come to after you go through the gates.” Lacey realized self-consciously how that sounded, and felt a combination of guilt and embarrassment for what they were probably assuming.
926 Round Hill Road was the address of a massive estate, home for three generations of the Steers family. Lacey’s childhood home, however, was the modest carriage house between the garages and the stables. Her father had been hired as the property’s caretaker when he was in his early twenties. He was a hard worker and excellent manager, and became the Steers family’s most trusted employee, overseeing the stables, the gardeners, and the housekeeping staff, and eventually earning the title of Estate Manager.
Growing up on the estate had been nothing short of idyllic. Lacey had free run of the grounds, which boasted rolling lawns, climbing trees and wooded trails. There was even a pond where she spent many summer hours capturing frogs and turtles, much to her mother’s dismay. Her father subsequently invented the “Two-day rule”: She could keep any frog, turtle, bug or small mammal she found for two days, provided she researched in the Greenwich library what food they needed. They then had to be returned to the spot she’d found them.
As she grew, she was allowed help out in the stables, where she learned to ride. She learned to groom and tack the horses, and, in return, the stable hands brought her through the natural progression, over time, of learning to mount, to walk, trot, canter, gallop, and eventually, to jump. The Steers’ oldest daughter, Tiffany, was more than happy to pass down her old breeches, boots and helmets to Lacey, even her expensive show coats. Horses became Lacey’s true love and whole life. By the time she was thirteen, her parents agreed to scrape together money to pay for a trainer to prepare her for competition, and she excelled at every event. Then on her sixteenth birthday, her greatest dream came true when her parents, with guidance and a little financial assistance from the Steers, bought her an eleven-year-old gelding, aptly named “Black”. Her parents’ stipulations were that Lacey was to take on all care and maintenance of her horse, and they she maintain an ‘A’ average in her schoolwork. Both caveats came easy to her.
The teenage years also brought a new social status awareness, courtesy of the local school bus ride. As top notch as the public schools in Greenwich were, everyone knew that the children of the wealthy families in back country Greenwich all went to private schools like Greenwich Country Day School, or the all-boys Brunswick, or all-girls Greenwich Academy. She was teased on many occasions as the public school bus pulled up to the impressive front gate about her parents being “servants” or “maids”. It hurt, but it toughened her skin and drove her to achieve. Hard work earned her an equestrian scholarship to Cornell, and while maturity had made her appreciate her beginnings, it was still a detail she tended to gloss over.
“That’s right!” Tommy Finn was saying, “You’re a horse girl, right? I remember from your senior portraits.”
Beau beamed at her appreciatively. “Do you own your own horse?”
“I did,” Lacey answered with a pang, “Not anymore. It’s a ton of work.”
When it had been time to leave for Cornell, Her parents regretfully had to sell Black, as they couldn’t afford to pay for his maintenance on top of college expenses. She searched for a way to steer the conversation back to Beau. “What about you, football star, what are you up to now, you get drafted by the Patriots?”
“Ha! No…” Beau attempted to sound amused at the thought, but Lacey caught a second of wistfulness in his eye. “No, I’m actually a hedge fund manager now. I have a place in town, but I keep my apartment here so I can come hang with these bozos once in a while.” He smacked Darren on the back and lifted his chin in a bro nod to Tommy. Everyone who lived in the New York City area knew that “in town” referred to Manhattan, which was only a forty-minute train ride away. Lacey was intrigued and impressed that Beau was reaping the rewards of working on Wall Street, while still making time for family. Damn. He was pretty perfect.
“You should come into the city sometime,” he said, locking his green eyes on her, “I know a ton of great restaurants...” Was he asking her on a date?
Lacey beamed back at him. “I’d love to, actually…I’ve been meaning to get into the city to explore some photography shows for work – so yeah – definitely – I’ll give you my cell.”
Beau hit Darren up for his pen and another business card to write on. As she was scribbling her number on the bar, she felt the tiniest pang of disappointment that Beau hadn’t asked what kind of work she did, but ah, well- plenty of time for that on their date. She grinned to herself. Yes. This was exactly what she needed. A hot date with a handsome, successful guy who would treat her right. Fuck Paul and his roaming eye.
From behind her the guys suddenly cheered.
“ASSHOLE!!!” Beau crowed good-naturedly.
“Hey! About fucking time, douchebag!” Darren chimed in.
Lacey turned to see who the commotion was about.
Jesus. Her breath caught for a second. This had to be Dane. He was undoubtedly a McAvoy, as handsome as his Beau, and as muscular as Darren, but taller - probably six foot three. More dangerous looking than his brothers. His sandy brown hair had natural streaks of blond and was pulled back in a short ponytail. He wore old cargo pants and a paint-speckled flannel shirt with the shirtsleeves rolled up revealing muscular forearms and half-hidden tattoos. He had obviously not bothered to change out of his work clothes.
“You idiots using language like that around beautiful women? Classy.” Dane took a swig of his beer bottle and addressed Tasha and Lacey with a respectful nod, “Ladies…”
His gaze halted on Lacey for a long beat, and a zap of undeniable attraction passed between them, completely derailing her composure. He had the same green eyes as Beau but with a feral slant that made him look predatory. Lacey flushed and willed her pulse to slow down. Dammit! Dammit! Tasha flashed Lacey a look, and Lacey tried to reassemble her thoughts.
No, no, no. She would not react to some womanizer, no matter how hot he was. She tried to smile back with friendly indifference, but he knew. She saw it register in his eyes with both intrigue and satisfaction. She had to look away, to extricate herself from his piercing gaze. Jesus. No wonder he was God’s gift to the Real Housewives of Connecticut. A sudden image of him fucking a married woman on her expensive dining room table made her pulse soar.
“Where you been, man?” Tommy reached out and gave him a friendly handshake.
“Had to finish up a job...” Dane answered. His voice was deep and smoky. Sexy in a way that made Lacey imagine him saying dirty things in her ear.
“I bet,” Beau cracked with a knowing smirk, sidling closer to Lacey possessively. He knew his brother’s affect on women, and made a proactive stake of his territory. “Ladies, my brother Dane, Dane- this is Lacey and Tasha. Greenwich High girls, few years behind us.”
Dane cocked his head inquisitively at them. Then raised his beer bottle in a toast: “Go Indians,” he said, looking directly at Lacey so intently that she had to look away. Tasha seconded it, and they all drank. Lacey set her empty highball glass on the bar, heart still thudding, and turned to Tasha. She needed to regroup.
“Wanna come to the restroom with me?”
“Yeah sure…Save our stools,” she instructed Darren with a flirty smile.
He beamed back at her. “That sounds like a medical procedure, but you got it,” he quipped. Tasha burst out laughing.
The girls wended their way through the boisterous crowd to the ladies room, then shut the door and noise behind them.
“Holy, holy, holy shit.” Lacey breathed, eyes wide.
“Damn, what a smoke show!” Tasha agreed, moving to the mirror to fix her makeup. She fished a mascara out of her purse and began carefully reapplying. “I mean, Darren is freakin’ adorable and he is going to be mine,” she pronounced, winking at Lacey in the mirror. She straightened. “But you, my dear, have a dilemma. It’s not too late for you to go for Dane instead of Beau…I mean the dude is just sex-on-wheels, and it’s super obvious he’s hot for you. It’d be the best sex of your life, but it’d be just a fling, and then you’d have no shot with Beau, who seems like relationship material.” She continued applying her makeup.
Well, there it was. Exactly. Lacey sighed.
“Fuck. You’re right. Beau is the smart choice. I just got rid of a player, I sure as hell don’t need another one in my life, right?”
Tasha clapped her purse shut. “Right. Players are fun to flirt with, but leave ’em on the field. I have to pee.”
Lacey peered at herself in the mirror as Tasha finished her business. She could do this. Easy peasy. Just don’t engage. Beau was great. Handsome. Successful. Just what she needed in her life right now. The girls smoothed their hair, applied lip gloss, and re-entered the fray.
“Eye on the prize, girl, eye on the prize,” Tasha said, as they squeezed by people to get back to their spot.
As they rounded the bar, Lacey’s heart clenched. A tall, slender, bleached blonde in a mini skirt and come-fuck-me-pumps was sidled up to Dane, brushing her obviously fake tits against his arm. Lacey averted her eyes and made a beeline for Beau, who was waiting with a fresh drink for her.
“Okay that I ordered you another?” he asked, handing it to her as she slipped into her barstool.
“Yes! Thanks. Thank you.” She took a longer than usual draw on her cocktail straw, and settled in to focus on Beau. Let’s do this, she thought. She swiveled her stool outward to face him and as she was re-crossing her legs to get comfortable, she glanced in Dane’s direction for the tiniest second. His gaze was on her thighs as they parted, then his eyes lifted and locked with hers, unashamed, and a knowing smile crossed his sensual mouth. Lacey’s heart pounded and she flushed furiously. God damn it! Just don’t look at him, she told herself, flustered.
She composed herself and addressed Beau. “So! What exactly does a hedge fund manager do?” Truthfully, she wasn’t that interested in the specifics, but she needed to find out more about him, and close the deal on making a date. More importantly, she needed to get his brother out of her line of sight.
Beau regaled her for a full half hour on the intricacies of portfolio management, stock options, market analysis, and risk assessment. As he spoke, he moved closer, settled his hand at the back of her seat and generally postured “mine” to the rest of the room. It was a nice feeling – to be wanted – courted. And man, was he easy on the eyes. Still, she found herself fighting the urge to steal a glance at Dane, even though she could sense, instinctively, that he was watching her. Watching them.
As the night wore on, the dining crowd gave way to the bar crowd. Beau was holding court, reminiscing with fellow ball players and admirers, but he kept a protective hand on the back of Lacey’s stool at all times. He would introduce her graciously any time someone new joined the conversation, and she could see in their eyes that the two of them registered as a couple. The guys would nod in approval and the girls couldn’t hide telltale flickers of jealousy. To be honest, she was loving it. Beau had an easy and confident air about him that people gravitated towards, and tonight, he had singled her out as special.
Suddenly, Tasha and Darren appeared before them with their coats on.
“We’re gonna head out,” Tasha announced, grinning at Darren. He had a muscular arm protectively around her shoulders, with a smile like he had just won the million-dollar Powerball.
Lacey was genuinely pleased. “Have fun, you two...I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Tash.” She gave Tasha a knowing smile of approval.
“Later, Bro,” Beau nodded to Darren. They watched them walk out, looking like they’d been together for years. Beau glanced at his Rolex. “Whoa. I have to catch the early train into the city tomorrow...can I walk you to your car?”
Lacey accepted the offer with satisfaction, discreetly scanning the bar for Dane as she stood up. He was so tall that she spotted him instantly. He was near the front door. Another bimbo had joined the first one and they were both vying for his attention. He looked distant and bored. Well, he won’t be so bored when he’s got them both in his bed tonight, she thought acidly. Then she caught herself. What the hell was going on? She didn’t even know this guy and she was jealous, angry, and disgusted with him.
Beau steered her through the crowd with a possessive hand at the small of her back, and they stopped in front of Dane and his admirers. Lacey tried to smile politely at the girls to avoid Dane’s gaze. She didn’t want to look at him, afraid of what his eyes might say. And afraid of what he would pick up in hers.
“We’re outta here, man,” Beau said to Dane, and Lacey suddenly wished it didn’t look like they were on their way to hook up.
“Cool,” Dane answered, but when she dared to chance a glance at him, his green eyes were locked on her, boring into her, looking anything but cool with it. There was a question there – are you sure? Her heart sped up. It was almost too much to look directly at him. He was too sexy. Too intimidating. And he knew exactly how he was affecting her.
She suddenly felt the urge to clarify. “He’s got an early morning and I’ve gotta get back to my parents’, so…” Dane tilted his head slightly and the tiniest smug smile reached his eyes. He knew she was explaining herself on his behalf.
“It was nice to meet you, Lacey,” he said, reaching out unexpectedly and taking her hand into his warm grip. It wasn’t a casual pleasantry, she was sure. It was a deliberate breach of the wall she was trying to keep between them. The feel of his large, calloused hand touching hers lit her nerves on fire, and she severed the handshake quickly, completely undone by his touch.
“You too,” she said politely, “’Nite,” she nodded at the girls. And let Beau lead her out the front door.
The night air helped in breaking the head-spinning spell that was Dane McAvoy. Just forget him…Just forget him… she repeated silently. She led Beau to her Jeep.
“This is me,” she said, unlocking the door with the remote. He moved in suddenly for a kiss she wasn’t ready for. She reciprocated briefly, then withdrew. It was nice. Exactly how she would expect a first kiss from Beau McAvoy to be. Solid, experienced, manly. He smelled like expensive cologne. The trouble was, having Beau’s mouth on hers didn’t elicit one hundredth of the electricity she’d felt from a simple handshake with his brother. What is wrong with you? she scolded herself. Beau is drop-dead gorgeous. Every girl in there would give their Coach bag to be making out with him in this parking lot right now.
“So I can call you about dinner?” he murmured, one hand at her waist.
“Yes,” Lacey said with renewed determination, “I’d love that.” And to prove it to herself, she leaned in for a second, deeper kiss. Slower, a bit more sensual…he slid his hands down to her hips and pulled her closer. She could feel his erection through his slacks, and his arousal began to stir some primal reaction within her. Good. See? It was fine. But she was done for now. She gently pulled back, and he conceded.
“I look forward to it,” he said. He watched as she got into her car, then turned and strode a few cars down to a shiny black Mercedes. He looked back at her and winked. Lacey sat at the wheel of her Jeep and took a big breath. Okay.
He started his engine and made a showy exit, screeching his tires, and disappeared down the street. Lacey sighed and started her own car, then craned her neck to see behind her to pull out. Her heart stopped. Dane. His massive frame was unmistakable. He was outside, leaning against the entrance pillar of the restaurant, smoking something, watching her.
Her heart thudded. Had he seen her kiss Beau? Probably. She backed the Jeep out, and on a sudden impulse, pulled up to the front entrance, letting the driver’s window down.
“Smoking’s bad for you, you know,” she called, trying to sound more casual than she felt. He smirked and walked slowly towards her with the confident swagger of an athlete. Lacey was simultaneously thrilled and scared. Christ, what are you doing, she thought. When he reached her car, he held up what was now obviously an e-cigarette.
“Vaping, not smoking. Haven’t had a real one in three months.” He bent his six foot three frame down so his elbows were resting on her window ledge. She held her breath. His face was so close to hers, and the parking lot lights made exquisite shadows on his angular stubbled jaw and sensuous lips. He heart thudded so hard, it was echoing in her ears.
“Oh,” she tried to answer casually, “I’ve never actually seen one. What are they like, flavored nicotine?” She was starting to feel like she’d gotten in line for a rollercoaster that was out of her comfort zone.
“Yeah, exactly. This one is called ‘Chocolate Cherry Decadence’.”That voice. Everything he said sounded sexual.
He kept his eyes locked on hers and took an excruciatingly slow inhale of the e-cigarette, then slowly let the vapor snake out from between his lips. Lacey was mesmerized, parting her lips subconsciously as she stared at his mouth. Her pulse was pounding.
“Do you wanna taste it?” he murmured, staring down at her mouth, breath becoming heavier. Lacey felt like she was in a trance. The alcohol buzz coupled with the sheer intoxication of being inches from Dane’s lips rendered her helpless. He didn’t mean the cigarette.
“Yes,” she said, but it came out as a choked whisper. His eyes flickered with a warning, then he slowly brought his lips closer, so close that she could feel his breath.
“You sure?” he murmured, and this time their lips brushed as he spoke. Lacey’s body was on fire. Her pulse pounded in her ears and her breathing was fast and shallow. She couldn’t stop it if she wanted to. His hand reached in and cupped the back of her head, threading his fingers in her hair. He slowly, slowly brought his full lips to hers and let out a groan. The sound of his desire undid her. She whimpered in surrender, her whole body trembling.
Slowly, his tongue met hers, tasting of chocolate and cherry and sex. He ran it excruciatingly slowly up over her top lip, his breathing fast and heavy. He kept his lips gentle but his hand was fisting the hair at her neck, betraying the sexual fury he was feeling. Lacey’s head was spinning. How did this happen? Why couldn’t she stop? Waves of primal desire surged through her body. Her mouth was still parted with whimpered panting as his delicious tongue moved to trace her lower lip, and began to suck it into his mouth.
“Dane!” Lacey burst suddenly, a cry of passion and frustration and confusion. He stopped, pulling back – the reality of where they were like a splash of cold water. They were both flushed and out of breath, though they had barely moved. In the unforgiving parking lot light, Dane’s massive erection strained at his cargo pants. Lacey’s head swam. No man had ever affected her this way. She was completely helpless to his touch. What the hell was happening??
“Fuck, Lacey...” Dane pushed back from the car and stared at her. “I didn’t mean to-”
“No, it’s fine – it’s fine,” She smoothed her hair frantically, and tried to compose herself, eyes darting around the parking lot to see if anyone had witnessed it. “I should go. I have to go.” Dane didn’t answer, just backed away slowly, watching her.
She pulled away and out of the Tavern parking lot, head and heart racing. What just happened? What the hell was she thinking? Her libido was reeling from the abrupt one-eighty in the game plan. She steadied her nerves as she turned the Jeep onto the black expanse of Long Ridge Road, replaying the last few minutes in her mind. Her cell phone dinged beside her with a text alert from a number she didn’t recognize. At the first red light she opened the text.
Cant wait to take you to dinner. How about Friday
Lacey dropped the phone back onto the passenger seat, her heart still hammering. Fuck.