“This is seriously the lamest,” Alex said, rolling his eyes as he sipped on a martini. He bumped my arm with his elbow. “Let’s give it five more minutes then we can take off.”
Giving him my best smile, I made a different suggestion. “Or we could leave now and go home to watch a movie?”
His head tipped to the side, eyes narrowing. “You’re not getting out of this. You promised Holly you’d come out with us and that,” he said, pointing his finger into my bare shoulder, “Is exactly what you’re doing. We’ll find you a man even if I have to go to extreme measures.”
My eyes widened. Alex’s extreme measures were to be avoided at all costs. They were sometimes loud and always—guaranteed—embarrassing. “No, no, no, that’s not necessary at all,” I said, shaking my head, grabbing onto his hands. “Five minutes it is.” I prayed that my smile was believable enough.
The truth was—I liked being out. Way more than I should. If I didn’t keep a tight handle on myself I knew I could end up like my mom. A young, single mother, working her fingers to the bone for a family of rich people. My grandmother had gotten pregnant with my mom before grandpa had married her and made an honest woman out of her like he always joked.
To me it was no joke.
No way was I winding up in trouble with no husband and most importantly no education.
As soon as I was old enough to cogitate, I promised myself I’d never follow in their footsteps. So far, so good. I’d never even had a boyfriend.
“Time to play ‘Who Would You’,” Alex announced, setting his martini glass down then slapping his hands on his lap.
I laughed out loud, nearly spilling my drink. Playing this game with Alex was always hilarious. He’d bring it up in the most inappropriate places—school retreats, his cousin’s bar mitzvah or my personal favorite—a homeowners meeting his mom made him (us) go to once when she was out of town.
The full name of the game should be, ‘Who Would You Sleep With’. It was a funny way to pass the time especially in mandatory boring situations.
“Hmm, I think that guy over there with the really tight pants is just perfect for me,” he said, raising his eyebrows as he wiggled his body on the stool. “Your turn.” His head snapped to me waiting for an answer.
Scoping out the place, my gaze traveled along until they stopped suddenly on a pair of bright blue eyes aimed directly at me. His stare was so intense, I spun around on my seat, leaning on the bar, my heart beating like crazy.
“Good, great God up in heaven, please let that hunk of perfection whisk our good girl—Paige—up in his very muscular, very strong arms and carry her away.”
Glaring over at Alex, his hands pressed together in prayer, eyes shut tight, I punched him in the arm. “Would you stop? Someone might hear you.” My vision searched for the man who’d been staring. A shock went through me when our eyes met again. The side of his handsome mouth quirked up, sending a warmth down to my lower belly.
He looked like trouble.
The kind I knew better than to get involved with.
Also the kind I was very much attracted to.
“Knock me down and call me Susan,” Alex said, grasping my arm. “Not once in four years have I ever seen you blush.”
Turning around again, I grabbed my barely touched drink. “I’m not blushing,” I said, shaking my head at him. “It’s the alcohol.” Picking up my glass, I glanced at the mood ring on my finger. Solid red. I’d had that ring for years and never seen it turn that shade before.
Alex snorted so loud I glared at him. “You’ve barely had anything.” He rolled his eyes as he straightened his shirt. “You’ve got a thing for Mr. Hotstuff over there. Admit it.”
I would do no such thing—to him or to myself. “Whatever.”
“Alright, girlie. Part deux of Who Would You commences now.” He fake shook out his hair like he was some kind of diva—which he was. “Watch and learn, my dear. Watch and learn.” Then he strode off as though walking down some kind of imaginary red carpet only he could see.
That made me laugh again so hard I had to put down my drink or risk spilling it. The second half of Who Would You consisted of making some kind of contact with your chosen one. Be it touch or talk it didn’t matter. Fail to complete this part of the game and you’d lose.
We didn’t play for money or anything. But losing your pride was worse.
As he neared his intended victim, I kept my eyes glued on his progress. A few more yards and he’d be there. My stomach gave a small twist wondering what stunt he was going to pull this time. With Alex you just never knew.
Two more steps and then the show really started. He pretended to trip then both his hands reached for Mr. Tight Pants’ arm. Alex ended up on his knees, pulling so hard on the guy’s arm that he was nearly bent in half attempting to assist.
The look on Alex’s face made me chuckle out loud. He was quite enamored. I had to admit that Mr. Tight Pants was a hottie.
The piece de resistance was yet to come. Struggling to get up, Alex took full advantage by leaning on his new friend, wiping his brow in an exaggerated manner and trying to get as close as he could to him. When Alex finally moved to leave, the tablecloth had other ideas. Like staying attached to Alex’s watch.
As he swung his arm up to wave goodbye the drinks on the table went crashing to the floor as though Alex were some kind of mock magician. He looked genuinely shocked—I don’t think that was part of his act.
Wait staff from all around zeroed in on the crisis, moving to pick up, clean and make sure no one was hurt.
The commotion he created made me laugh so hard I doubled over, nearly unable to breathe. My stomach hurt and tears streamed down my face. A few minutes later, the man of the hour glided up to me.
“Your turn now, missy.”
That set me off again. “How am I supposed to follow that?” I raised my hands in the air and pretended to bow multiple times. “You win, dude. There’s no way I can beat you. You’re the master.”
Yanking on his collar with his thumbs and index fingers he said, “True. I am the best at this game but it’s not truly finished until all participants participate. Now, off you go. Get.” His hands pushed me off my stool forcing me forward.
I’d been friends with Alex for years. He would never give up until I at least tried. “Fine, but I don’t know who to pick.”
Alex shouted, “Ha, yeah right. The guy you’re making googly eyes with. Now scoot.” One more push and I was on my way. No fooling him.
The rules were pretty simple. Contact could mean anything. Even just a polite, hello. I could say hi to someone. It wouldn’t be the showstopper Alex embarked on. That was okay. One quick greeting then we could leave.
My heart drummed a steady beat as I approached my Who Would You target. I could see the back of him now. His hair wasn’t unkempt so much as a few weeks past needing a cut. Which made it just the perfect length for me to run my fingers through. Peeking down at my ring I noticed it was still red. So odd.
That thought jarred me out of my daydream. I needed to stay focused. Get this done then get home. Wiping my clammy palms on the sides of my dress, I inhaled a deep breath. A few more seconds and this would be over.
My pace slowed now that I was directly behind him. Lollygagging there for a bit I waited in the hope that he’d turn around, halting any further need for me to grab his attention.
Watching the curve of his neck move as he tossed back the amber remnants in his glass caused my skin to heat. Something in me wanted to reach out and stroke the skin there. I bet it was hot—maybe even a bit sweaty.
If I touched my lips—just so—I wondered if—
Just then someone bumped up behind me with so much force I couldn’t help but be propelled into the very neck I had been daydreaming about. “Oooff, I’m sorry,” I said, genuinely shocked to now be pressed up fully to my target’s back.
His skin felt almost scalding through his shirt into my clumsy body. The heat from his back sizzled against my breasts causing my nipples to harden at the contact.
“I’m honored,” he said, twisting around placing his hands on my waist. “Thought for a minute I was wrong. But I’m never wrong.” That smirk emerged again holding my attention as well as my breath hostage.
I felt almost dizzy being so close to him. My stomach clenched, filling with butterflies. “You’re honored for what exactly?” I asked, squinting at him, not comprehending his meaning.
His smile grew. “You and your friend,” he said, nodding in Alex’s direction. “You’re playing, Who Would You. Correct?”
My stomach dropped. How did he— “I’ve played it many times before. Hell, I practically invented that game,” he chuckled, his fingers tightening into my skin.
A blush rose on my cheeks, my legs desperately wanting to give out. “Umm,” was all I could say.
“You are the cutest thing I’ve seen in a very long time.” His eyes raked me from head to toe, spending a bit more time on my cleavage than he should. “By the way, I’m Jake. And you are?” he asked, sticking his hand into mine. His large, warm grasp engulfed my tiny one.
“Umm—Mindy,” I replied, not wanting to give him my real name for some reason. Like if I did, maybe it would make this—real. And it couldn’t be real.
“Can I tell you a secret?” he asked, lowering his voice a bit, pulling me closer to whisper in my ear, creating waves of goosebumps. “I already picked you out as my, Who Would You.”