As I drive aimlessly around Memphis, the anger pulsing through me finally fades and a strange numbness sets in. I wonder, only for a minute, if I’m in shock, but then I see the sign that makes everything better.
Pulling a maneuver that would have been dangerous during the day, but at nearly two am is just plain fun, I cross over three lanes and a median. I pull into the liquor store parking lot, counting my blessings when I see the “open” sign blinking despite the late hour. As I’m crossing the parking lot a limo pulls up and three scantily clad women and an equal number of large, muscular men, pile out in a cloud of laughter and music.
Ignoring them I go inside, pause a moment to get my bearings, then head straight past the wine to the back where they keep the hard stuff.
If I’m trying to decide between whiskey and rum I hear a deep voice behind me.
“Hello there, beautiful.”
Beautiful? Me? I haven’t looked in a mirror recently, but I’m pretty sure I look a hot mess. My hair and clothes are rumpled from a fourteen-hour drive, the last two with the windows rolled down to keep me awake. I have no doubt my eyes are red and puffy and what makeup is left on my face is tear-streaked. I probably have some pretty awesome racoon eyes going on. Whoever is speaking can’t be talking to me. But, there’s no one else near me.
I turn to see one of the men from the limo standing behind me. He’s at least a foot taller than my own five feet, three inches, with caramel skin, jet-black hair, and obsidian eyes. He’s broad shouldered, thick armed, and the dark stubble on his face should make him look unkempt, but instead it only adds to his sex appeal. He is easily the most beautiful man I’ve ever laid eyes on in my life—and I’m in no mood for it.
Still, standing so close to him, I can’t fight back the awareness that heats my body as I let my eyes rake over him. A distant, reckless part of me wonders what he would do if I just walk up and lick him.
Then I remember that he is a man, and as of twenty minutes ago, I’m completely and totally off men, forever.
I shoot my best I’m-so-not-impressed glare at him, then turn back to my booze perusal. Deciding on my favorite whiskey, I grab a bottle and start towards the register.
Tall, dark and yummy is hot on my heels.
“You know, a woman as beautiful as you shouldn’t be drinking alone. My friends and I are having a little party at my place, you should join us.”
Seriously? I whirl around to face him.
“How great is it that we live in a society that makes it perfectly acceptable for you to walk up to a strange woman in a liquor store and ask her back to your place. Yet in that same society it is both unsafe for me to actually take you up on it and considered slutty if I did.”
His eyes go wide. “Um, damn.”
“And let’s be honest, even if I did go home with you, you probably have a wife or girlfriend completely oblivious to the fact that you’re trying to get me to put your dick in my mouth. Which would also make me a homewrecker, even though you invited me to do it.”
Color drains from his face as he throws both hands up as if warding off a blow. “No, wife, no girlfriend, I swear. And I’m not trying… Look, sweetheart, I was just…”
“I’m not your sweetheart, or baby, or darling, or whatever you use to charm women. I’m a person with a name, not just some piece of ass for you to use up and then toss aside.”
He raises his hands in surrender, “I should probably just turn and run, but part of me feels like I should apologize, not just for my behavior, but for that of my entire species.”
Are dickheads a species? I wonder, nearly giving voice to my question before realizing how completely shitty I sound. My shoulders slump, all of my anger drained, “No, I should apologize. I mean, yeah, it’s kinda creepy to hit on someone in a liquor store, but I shouldn’t have snapped at you.”
“You call that snapping? Loca lady, that was a full-on explosion,” he says as a grin as bright as the sun spreads across his face. “It was actually pretty awesome. It’s a good thing my sister isn’t here, she’d be applauding you.”
Despite myself, I feel the corners of my mouth turn up into a weak smile.
“And there it is, a smile. My work here is done. I’m sorry for being creepy, you just looked so sad, I thought you could use some cheering up.”
I arch an eyebrow at him. “And inviting me back to your place was supposed to make me happy?”
The grin morphs into a self-assured smirk as he shrugs and gestures towards the three giggling women hanging off the two other men as they loaded up a basket with booze and snacks. “It worked for them.”
“Oh, good-gravy, those girls don’t have the IQ God gave patio furniture. They probably get this excited every time they come to a liquor store.”
He puts on a crest-fallen look. “And here I thought it was my good looks and charming demeanor that won them over.”
I can’t lie, his good looks and charming demeanor are actually quite impressive. Seriously, never in my life have I ever wished so hard that I could be the type to just follow my hormones, consequences be-damned. I have a feeling that a night in bed with this Latin sex god would be worth the risk of waking up brutally murdered. And after the day I’ve had, it would be so nice to let go and lose myself to a few hours of pleasure.
I sigh deeply. Even if I could ignore the danger of going off with a strange man, even if I didn’t end up murdered or sold into sex slavery, and even if the sex was decent, I’d still wake up with one more regret tomorrow. And I just don’t need that. Not after today.
“Is it their first time in a limo? Are you taking them to senior prom?” I quip.
He laughs. “I didn’t ask for ID but I’m pretty sure they’re legal, but money does tend to turn a girl’s head. Not yours though?”
I hold up the bottle of whiskey in my hand. “Sorry, the only man that can turn my head tonight is Jack. He’s the only guy I need.”
His smile turned sexy. “Too bad, for you, of course. You and Jack have a good night, Loca.”
He gives me a wink and turns and walks away. I watch his ass in the tight jeans until the door shuts behind him. Letting out another heavy sigh, I approach the counter to pay for my whiskey
“He covered you,” the man behind the counter says as he puts my bottle into a brown paper sack.
“Really?” I turn to look out at the parking lot where the limo is pulling away. “That was nice of him.”
“Yeah,” the cashier replies. “He’s pretty cool. He comes in almost every weekend. Always pays with big bills and leaves the change for the cashier on duty. I guess you can be generous when you’re a rich football player. Must be nice.”
“Must be,” I say, absently, taking my whiskey and heading to my car.
My mind lingers on the hottie a few more minutes. A football player, huh? Well, that explains the muscular physique and cock-sure attitude. A rich and generous, uber-sexy football player. Maybe I should have gone home with him. It wasn’t like I had anywhere else to go.
With that thought, my current reality slams back into me, pushing the hottie out of my head. As of half an hour ago, give or take, I no longer have a home to go to. The first, and only, thing on my priority list is finding somewhere to curl up and drink myself into oblivion. With my best friend out of town on her honeymoon, the only place I can think of going is to my sister’s house.
It isn’t until I’m driving through the neighborhood of houses with darkened windows that I realize my mistake. I can’t go barging up to Tabby’s house in the middle of the night. If I woke the kids she’d never forgive me. Neither would her husband, Ryan, who has to get up early for work. I’m such an idiot that I didn’t realize that earlier. I should have just gone to a hotel.
I reach their house and turn into the driveway with the intention of turning around and going to a hotel, but as I pull in exhaustion overwhelms me. The thought of driving for even another minute sends me to the edge of tears. I just want this night to be over.
I park my car and get out, being careful not to slam the door. Luckily, my sister is a Martha Stewart clone and everything about her home is welcoming to guests, especially her back porch. I quietly open the gate to the back privacy-fence, locking it behind me as an extra precaution, and tiptoe around to the porch that personifies the southern ideal of a veranda. It stretches the full length of the house, is eight feet wide, and as well-furnished as any normal person’s living room.
Never in my life have I been so happy that my over-achieving sister isn’t normal. I head straight to the sitting area at one end of the porch that contains an entire arrangement of white wicker furniture, including a sofa with thick, soft cushions and accompanying throw pillows. Kicking off my shoes I recline on the sofa, a couple of pillows behind my back and head, and open the whiskey.
“It’s just you and me, Jack,” I say as I take my first swig.
Something pushes on my arm.
I open my eyes and see a giant face hovering over me. It looks like my brother-in-law, Ryan.
“Shhh. Don’t wake the babies,” I tell the big Ryan face. My voice sounds weird, like the words are all running together.
Ryan’s face gives me an odd look. “The kids are all awake and having breakfast. It’s seven in the morning, Shelby. What are you doing here?”
“Noah. Fucking cheater,” I manage.
“Oh, shit. Come on, let’s get you up and inside. Here, let me take that bottle.”
“No.” I say, hugging the bottle tight to my chest. “This is Jack. He’s my only friend.”
Ryan lets out a weird snort and I think he’s laughing at me, but I can’t tell. I don’t really care.
He tries to pull the bottle away but I slap at him with heavy, uncoordinated hands.
“Shelby, honey, Jack is empty. If you give him to me, I’ll take you inside and introduce you to new friends. You’ll like Juan Valdez, he’s sitting in Mr. Coffee right now, just waiting for you.”
My mind floats back to the liquor store and the sexy dark skinned rich boy hitting on me. Is he Juan? Maybe. I don’t remember getting a name. Either way, I like that idea and push Jack out so Ryan can take him. “Yes, take me to Juan Valdez. Juan will be my friend. He wants me to go home with him.”
Ryan snorts again and this time I’m sure he’s laughing, but I forget to be mad because he’s pulling me up by my arms and the world is starting to spin.
We go inside and I’m impressed with how incredibly fast I’m walking, especially since I didn’t think my feet were even moving.
“Tabby, we have a visitor,” Ryan says, and his voice sounds gruff, like he’s lifting something heavy.
My sister comes around the corner, “Who…Oh, sweet Jesus. Shelby what happened?”
“Tabitha!” I try to say, excited to see my sister. But it comes out as “Bebbefa” which makes me stop and shake my head. There must be something wrong with my mouth, it just isn’t working right.
“She was passed out on the porch with a bottle of whiskey. I think she caught Noah cheating on her,” Ryan says.
I nod. “Yes. That. That happened.”
“Oh, baby, I’m so sorry.” Tabby kisses me on the forehead. I smile because Tabby makes everything better. “Babe, can you get her to the sofa in the den? I’ll get the kids settled and be right there.”
I have the vague impression of moving down the hall and then the world tilts and I land on something soft and comfy. This is nice. I decide I want to stay right here forever. I’ll meet sexy Juan Valdez later.