Eliza is out on a first date, when the lights go out and someone other than the man she’s out with takes advantage of the dark to kiss her more passionately than she’s ever been kissed before.
The mystery kisser has to be one of the men sitting nearest to her, and Eliza is determined to kiss as many frogs as she needs to, until she finds her prince.
Two Years Earlier
Eliza was early at the coffee shop, but she didn’t mind. She had half an hour until Greg arrived, which was just enough time to compose herself perfectly. She’d look her best when he first laid eyes on her.
She and Greg had been dating for nine weeks, but intimacy between them was still an issue. It wasn’t just the physical aspect that was lacking. Greg seemed to want to keep her at a safe distance emotionally, and she supposed that was part of his charm. He was the tall, dark, and handsome type. The guy who didn’t need to talk much, but whose words carried substance when he did. Public displays of affection were out of the question for him, and she was entirely fine with it. A few years her senior, he said he was over the teenage-drama love scene, and she could totally live without it, herself.
They didn’t go out much. Greg found clubs to be outside his comfort zone. They didn’t see each other all that often, either. Eliza had at first found that weird, but he’d explained that a personality like his felt repressed when he had to adhere to societal norms such as seeing his girlfriend every day or having to talk with her over the phone, so she’d stopped pressuring him. She was proud of how much she’d grown and overcome her insecurities since she’d started going out with him.
Being with Greg made her always strive to be the best she could.
She straightened her skirt for the millionth time, and brought her compact out of her purse to make sure her lip-gloss was still as shiny as before she’d taken a sip from her coke.
It was in the mirror that she first saw the man who’d be the bane of her existence for a long time to come.
He wore a white shirt and faded jeans, and might as well be holding up a sign that read DANGER. It wasn’t his tussled hair and scuffed boots, or the Zippo he kept flicking, as much as his eyes. His gaze was intense, piercing, even under the poor lighting. A shiver ran down her spine when it met hers in the mirror. He smirked, and Eliza held her breath, instinctively knowing it would be perilous to smile back.
She put the compact back in her purse, and concentrated on her drink. Well, tried to, at least. Her mind kept going to the guy, and she couldn’t even say why. It wasn’t like he was her type. He wasn’t tall or buff enough. Or handsome.
Well, maybe he was handsome, if you went for the bad-boy type. Where Greg emanated calm power, this guy seemed to be a bundle of nerves. On edge. Someone she could never feel safe around. Not that she’d want to be around him. Or think of him any longer. She’d only seen him for a split second.
Someone pulled out the seat opposite to hers, and she found herself looking at a white-clad chest. She raised her gaze to see what she knew she would—the smirk and green eyes that had unsettled her so.
She gulped, but managed to force a smile. “That seat is taken.”
“It is now. By me.” His voice was dreamy. Rough and velvety at the same time, it felt like a caress.
She scoffed anyway. “No. By my boyfriend, who’ll be here any minute now.”
“Well, sucks for him. I’m not going anywhere unless you have a drink with me.” He crossed his arms over his chest and looked at her challengingly.
She shrugged. “Suit yourself. It’s your butt on the line.”
He tapped his fingers on the table. Eliza liked men who took care of their hands, but the ink smudges on his index finger and short, ragged nails fit his image.
“I don’t think my butt is in any danger,” he said with a lopsided grin. “Yours could be, if we hit it off and you asked nicely. For now, I’ll settle for that drink.”
She flinched, disturbed at how his voice and words made her body react. She felt her skin flush and her temperature rise…and not in an unpleasant way. It usually took a heavy kissing session with Greg for that. “Not in this lifetime. Now leave me alone.” She was relieved when her voice didn’t shake.
“Or what?” He uttered the words slowly, his tone and the quirk of his lips turning the straightforward question into some kind of dirty suggestion.
Despite his persistence, nothing about him made her feel physically threatened. He didn’t crowd her, and while lewd, his pickup routine wasn’t intimidating. Holding his gaze, she tilted her head to the side. “What do you mean, ‘Or what?’ I told you. My boyfriend will beat you senseless, if you don’t stop harassing me.”
His jaw clenched. Relaxed. Clenched again. “Not that I wouldn’t like to see him try, Eliza, but your precious Greg isn’t coming. He’ll call you.”
It took a few moments for his words to sink in, but he was off his seat before she could ask how he knew her or Greg.
She followed him and caught up with him at the bar. “How… Who are you?”
“Nate.” He sounded bored. “Greg knew I’d be here, and asked me to let you know he wouldn’t make it.” He turned away from her and threw some cheesy line to the buxom blonde sitting to his left. Eliza wouldn’t leave the matter alone.
“If Greg sent you, why were you such a jerk just now?”
He looked at her over his shoulder, one hand planted higher up the other blonde’s thigh than propriety would allow. “I felt like it. Thought you needed to know your options. I know the kind of girl your boyfriend goes for.” He ran his tongue over his teeth. “Personally, I like them more experienced.”
The woman next to him let out a throaty laugh. She covered his hand with hers, and pulled it a bit higher still.
Eliza blanched. “Did he—”
“Tell me you’re a virgin? He didn’t have to. I can smell it all over you.” He turned away. “You better get going. Now.”
“You’re a pig.” Yes, it was a lame insult, but she was too shaken up to bother finding a better one.
“And yet I’m your boyfriend’s best buddy. Doesn’t that make you wonder what he’s really like?” He only caught her eye briefly before facing the other way again.
Eliza turned on her heel and left, but not before seeing him stick his tongue down the other blonde’s throat.
She’d never admit it out loud, but Nate was the reason she slept with Greg a week later.