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By´╝ÜSosie Frost

“With you?”

“I’m listening.”

“I don’t know you.” I shrugged. “Aside from a nickname overcompensating for a world of issues.”

“Oh, there’s issues all right. You tell me yours, I’ll tell you mine.”

His nose was crooked, but I liked it. It meant he wasn’t totally perfect. He couldn’t have been much older than me, but he acted like it. Whoever called him Hard should have called him Brass Balls. He packed a lot of heat in those pants if he was trying to get up on me.

Maybe he thought he was hot shit and could hit on some lonely girl in a bar. Well, I’d teach him a thing or two. My skin might have looked soft and mocha, but I was anything but smooth and tempting. And my cocky charmer? He should have opened his mouth just to insert his foot.

“My father just died.”

The sudden realization smacked the smirk off his face. I shot my drink and stared at the multi-colored array of bottles neatly arranged on the mirrored bar. The girl looking back at me—the little wannabe teacher with librarian glasses and a wave of ebony curls cascading over her back—didn’t hide the pain very well.

“Sorry to hear that.” Zach nodded. “I know the feeling.”

“I doubt it.” The empty glass was making me talk, but refilling it would spill way more than liquor. I tapped my nails over the rim. The rat-a-tat-tat revealed more than I liked. “He wasn’t a good father.”

Zach didn’t flinch. “We should start a club. Did yours beat you?”

“No, you have to hang around to beat your kids.”

“Not if you had mine. He had a long enough reach.”

Ouch. Zach shrugged it off.

“It shouldn’t matter,” I said. “He’s dead, and the world didn’t stop turning. My life’s about to change. And I won’t miss him at all.”

“Oh yeah?” Zach slipped a napkin across the bar-top. “Then why are you crying?”

Damn it. I didn’t mean for the tears to slip out. I turned away to dab my cheeks. I hadn’t bothered with much makeup. Today was supposed to be the final fitting for my gown, and afterwards I planned to head to the salon for my hair and makeup before the rehearsal dinner. Whoops. I forgot to cancel the appointment.

Christ, this was a mess.

I was a mess.

“Sorry,” I said. “Not my night.”

“How can I make it better?”

“Wow, you’re relentless.”

“I can’t resist a good damsel in distress.”

I waved a finger at him. “Let’s get one thing straight here, Mr. Hard.”

He grinned. “Yes? Miss…?”


“Yes, Miss Shay?”

“I am no damsel in distress. And you, sir, are no prince charming.”

“Never said I was.” Two dangerously wholesome dimples framed Zach’s smile. “But I might be the guy who’d tie you to the train tracks, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

He was a piece of work. He was a piece of something else too, but I decided to be a lady and keep that particular insult clenched in my teeth.

“Unless you’re packing a magic wand in those jeans—” I held a hand up before he dared to comment. “And you can reverse time to give me back these last two days, I’m not interested. So you can move along now, Hard.”

“And leave you to drink alone in a time of mourning?” He ordered another round. “Not gonna happen, Shay.”

He said my name like he plucked the ice from my glass, sucked it over his tongue, then lapped a path up my neck. He cast shivers in all the right places, and that was absolutely nothing I should have imagined in the sweltering Atlanta evening.

“I’m a big girl. I can handle myself.”

“Then why don’t you keep me company instead?”

His hands curled over his beer, large and strong. Whatever he did for a living wasn’t what I planned to do with chalk, finger-paints, and a roomful of sticky first graders.

The thick, bulging muscles in his arms gave me goosebumps, and the tight t-shirt strapped over his broad chest flaunted his perfect assets. He was every bit the Southern treat that would tempt me in all the wrong ways. Guys like him would keep me from transferring from Georgia State to NYU, like I planned to do for the past two years.

Muscles or not, those plans were on hold. Dad’s car accident complicated everything.

Zach said nothing else. I let him tease me into the question.

“Why would you need company?” I asked.

“I just got a letter about seeing some attorney. Legal stuff.”

I eyed the coiling, barbed line of tattoos decorating his arm. The dark bands of ink merged into a rippling American flag, peeking from under his sleeve.