In this scene, after her break-up, Graci tries to get back in the dating game…
The tall, handsome man smiled down at her. “You look tired of standing. I’ve got a spot over there. Want to sit?”
“Sure. Why not.”
“I’m Mike, by the way.” He offered his hand to shake.
She took it. “Graci.”
Was she Graci? Right now she felt like a stranger as she followed him across the room to a nook under the stairs to the upper level. A couple of sofas were arranged in a cozy group. People were stuffed hip to hip, friends of Mike’s, apparently, because one of them gave up his seat and accepted the beer Mike offered him.
There wasn’t really room for two, so Graci had to perch on the wide arm of the sofa with one leg across Mike’s legs. His arm slid around her back, too intimately close for someone she’d just met. She felt a lot uncomfortable…and quite a bit turned on.
Because she was short and he was tall, their positions put his head nearly level with hers, making it easier to talk. He leaned close and asked the standard litany of questions: What’s your story? Where do you work? Likes and dislikes, hobbies?
Graci asked the same questions in return.
Real estate. Fairly new to the city. Played basketball in college. Fishing and boating in his spare time. And did she want another drink?
Before she knew it, Graci was three martinis in and sitting on Mike’s lap rather than on the arm of the sofa. She had an arm around his neck, and he whispered close to her ear. He kissed her earlobe, then her jaw.
This was all right. This was good. It was going exactly as she’d intended. She was more buzzed than she’d been for a very long time. The warmth of the liquor filled her head to toe, and all her lady parts were starting to hum with interest. Mike smelled good. His arms were strong and warm around her. She liked being nestled against all that hard, manly muscle and bone.
And the best part? He was nothing like Joey. For one thing, he was taller than her ex. He wasn’t dark-haired, dark-eyed, or Latino. His skin was pale, slightly freckled, she noticed, since their faces were inches apart. And his eyes were a greenish color. Or maybe gray. He had a pleasant voice, a nice laugh. And he wasn’t Joey.
He stopped talking as he nuzzled along her jawline, and then his mouth covered hers. How strange to kiss someone who wasn’t Joey. How different those thin lips felt from Joey’s soft, full ones. But the difference was good. She liked it.
Graci closed her eyes and kissed him back, this stranger she clung to as if she knew him. As if he knew her. She surrendered to the basic needs of her body, her breasts tender, the nipples peaking against her bra. Her pussy throbbed, a low, steady tingle of anticipation. She wasn’t broken at all. She could still react to a man.
Who wasn’t Joey.
Suddenly, her throat felt thick and her eyes prickled with tears. Good God, it was amazing she even had any left to shed. Graci squeezed her eyes more tightly shut and kissed harder. She would not give in to this fresh wave of sorrow. She would continue to have FUN, damn it.
But that chance was past. He wasn’t Joey, and she wasn’t ready. A second later, Graci ended the kiss with a muffled sob. “I’m sorry. I can’t.”
“Huh?” Mike gazed at her with lust-glazed eyes, her words not quite registering, his hand still working its way underneath her top.
Graci pushed his hand away and slid off his lap. “I’m sorry. I have to go.”
“Wait. What?” He stood. “What did I do? We were having a good time. Too handsy? I’ll back off.” He reached out and took hold of her arm.
“No. It’s not you. It’s me. I just have to go now.”
Graci pulled against his grip. She overestimated how lightly he was holding her and staggered when he immediately let go. Her head was spinning from the vodka, and her balance sucked. She careened into a person standing behind her and might have fallen if a hand hadn’t reached out to steady her.
“Whoa. Look out there. You okay?”
“Yes. I’m f-fine,” she stammered and, oh great, now the tears had arrived like an unwelcome rainstorm. They choked her voice and trickled down her cheeks. She looked up at the guy holding her arm and into the bluest pair of eyes she’d ever seen.
His forehead puckered as he looked back and forth between Graci and Mike. “This guy bothering you?”
“Hey!” Mike said.
“No. It’s nothing like that,” Graci said. “He didn’t do anything. It’s me.”
Those eyes were really blue. Unreal blue, like some actor whose name she couldn’t think of right now. For a moment, she was so drunk and confused all she could do was stare into those mesmerizing eyes and wonder if he wore tinted contacts or something.
“Forget this.” Mike’s voice came from somewhere behind her, but it was already far away. Distant.
The blue-eyed man’s frown smoothed, and he smiled. “Sure you’re okay? You don’t look so good.”
She sniffed and wiped her damp cheeks. “I’m fine. I just…haven’t drunk in a while and I… Oh.” Suddenly, the pleasant swirly feeling inside her turned into churning. Her stomach somersaulted and her ears rang. She was going to puke right there in the middle of a crowded club. She clapped a hand over her mouth.
The man didn’t ask again if she felt all right. He took a firmer hold of her arm and dragged her through the throng toward the restroom.
Graci barely made it inside and dropped to her knees beside a toilet before her guts let loose. Everything came boiling up, the booze, the pain and betrayal, the loss and loneliness rushing out of her in a cathartic gush. Thoughts of Joey mingled with the pain in her stomach as she purged him from her system. Damn if he would occupy even a tiny part of her mind or heart for one more moment.
After she was through, she rested her forehead against one arm and simply breathed.
“Are you gonna be okay? Can I get you anything?” some girl asked.
“Thanks. No.” Graci dragged herself upright.
The girl offered breath mints.
Her small kindness seemed saintly, overwhelming, and Graci almost started crying again.
After she’d splashed her face, rinsed her mouth, and sucked on one of the mints, her drunken weepiness seemed to have abated. Still a little weak and shaky, she walked out of the restroom.
The blue-eyed man waited outside. “You gonna make it?”
Crap! Of all the people to witness her humiliation, it had to be the hottest guy she’d seen in ages. “Yeah. Thanks for helping me. That was so embarrassing.”
“No big deal. We’ve all been there.” He smiled sympathetically.
“Yeah, but maybe not so publicly.”
Her savior’s vivid blue eyes were only part of a really hot package. Faded T-shirt and jeans hugged a lean body. Blue tats coiled around his biceps and down his forearms. A Celtic design enhanced the muscles on one side, and what may have been Chinese figures marked the other. She couldn’t make out the pattern on the side of his neck without staring, which she did not want to be caught doing, so she barely glanced at the tattoo or the piercing in his eyebrow. Shaggy brown hair, longer than hers, fell in waves over his forehead and neck, and the scruff of a beard and moustache framed really nicely shaped lips. Good God, was she actually standing here, swaying on her feet, thinking how kissable his mouth looked?
The sexy man nodded toward the area where Mike and his friends still sat. “Was that guy your ride home? You need help getting a cab?”
“No. He’s not… I came here alone. I can drive home. It’s not far.”
He grimaced. “Mm. Sorry, but I don’t think you should. You got a friend or somebody I could call?”
Tara would come in a heartbeat if Graci called, but her teasing later would be relentless. She shook her head. “I guess maybe I do need a cab.”
Before she could take out her phone, he’d already begun punching in a number on his. Graci leaned against the wall and rested her eyes. The music and voices around her swelled and receded in an odd rhythm. She was the calm eye at the center of a hurricane.
A hand touched her shoulder, and Graci opened her eyes to stare into the stranger’s eyes again. They really were an unearthly shade of blue. A kind smile creased the corners and made them sparkle. “Want to move outside? Your ride should be here soon. I called about fifteen minutes ago.”
She blinked away the fog. Fifteen minutes and he’d stayed by her, waiting with her. That was either really kind or really creepy.
“I’m feeling much better,” she said. “Thanks again for helping me. But I got it now. I can make my own way outside.”
One eyebrow curved in doubt. “Sure?”
“Yeah. Really.” She pushed off the wall and stood on her own two feet to show him she wasn’t swaying anymore. “Thanks again for helping me.”
“You’re welcome.” He lifted his hand in a little farewell salute. “Bye.”
Graci walked toward the exit with as much grace and dignity as she could muster. On her way past the stairs, she noted that her friend Mike already had a different girl on his lap. A blonde this time. They appeared rapturously happy together, swallowing each other’s faces. The uncomplicated hookup Graci had intended for herself had moved on to someone else. Easy come, easy go, yet she couldn’t help feeling she’d dodged a bullet. But if she couldn’t even make out with a stranger without having a meltdown, having sex with one was going to be nearly impossible. Maybe she just wasn’t a casual hook-up sort of girl.
It wasn’t until she was in the cab on her way home that Graci realized she’d never asked the blue-eyed man’s name. Not that it mattered. It wasn’t as if she’d ever see him again. In fact, it would be better for her pride if she never had to be reminded of this night again. Chalk one up to getting back in the game. Well, she’d done that much. Jumped in with both feet.