Page 9 of I Promise You

He smiles broadly at her, the effect lighting up his face, and it’s such a different expression than he was giving me that my ire rises higher. “Nah, sweetheart, none of that piss. Get the Fat Tire—it’s all I drink.”

“Flat Tire, right,” she says.

“No—Fat Tire,” he replies.

She huffs and glares at the other girls. “I told y’all this wasn’t right!” She smiles for Mr. Hot Pants. “Got it, Babycakes! I’ll get them all just for you!”

She blows him kisses, barely sparing me a glance, then disappears down another aisle, and when I pivot back around, he’s moved closer to me. The scent of him hits me, assailing my senses, the smell of leather (of course) mixed with earthy male spice, perhaps sandalwood and vanilla. It’s disgusting.

I crane my neck to look up at him. “Stealthy, aren’t you. That’s not a question, but a rhetorical statement. What are you doing?” The pitch of my voice escalates as he eases closer.

“I know you.” His voice has deepened, soft and silky.

“I have one of those faces. I’m a chameleon.”

“Hmm.” His eyes stare into mine, and this close, I see the ring of silver around his irises, like lightning. He drops his gaze to look at my unimpressive chest.

I resist the urge to straighten my shoulders.

“You follow the band?”

Oh. I glance down at the faded Four Dragons shirt, a Vane castoff, one I haven’t been able to let go of. In the early days, I slept in it, wishing away the heartache, but now I wear it because it’s roomy and clean and in my drawer. I can proudly say I put it on without even thinking of him.

I shrug nonchalantly. “Pretty sure I heard them a time or two.” What I don’t say is, Well, I was with the lead singer for years then the world caught fire. A tight feeling grows in my throat and I push those thoughts down, trap them in a box, wrap a thick chain around them, and toss them into a dark closet.

He takes his hat off, rakes a hand through his messy hair, and readjusts the cap so the bill is facing forward. “Crazy that those local guys now have songs on the Billboard charts. Makes me feel like I knew them. What was the lead singer’s name? Vince? No…”

“Vane,” I mutter. His band is alternative rock mixed with Delta blues, eccentric in sound and heavy on angsty lyrics. He even wrote a song about me after our breakup: “Sweet Serena”. I picture him now, his midnight hair, his tattooed body—probably curled up next to a groupie.

“Right.” He’s studying me. I’m not sure he’s stopped staring, as if I’m a puzzle he can’t figure out. “What’s your name?” He takes another step toward me, and I press back against the cookie shelf. He has no personal space bubble!

My heart skips and I get a strange prickle along my neck, an awareness of something rich and complicated threatening to suck me down. He’s managed to get under my skin, though I’m impervious.

I inhale sharply as our eyes cling. Something about him jogs my memory—

“Excuse me.” I maneuver my cart around his and disappear down the next aisle.

God. No video is worth putting up with some pigskin-toting Casanova.

A few minutes later, I head toward the checkout aisle and get in line. Mr. Hot Pants and his entourage come up behind me. Inside the narrow space, bracketed by candy on one side and magazines on the other, I inch forward, putting distance between us. I jerk up a copy of the World Enquirer and flip through it. UFOs spotted in Canada, a sea serpent spotted off the coast of Cornwall, Katy Perry pregnant with a bat baby… I huff. I can write better sensationalized fiction with my eyes closed.

He towers behind me, his body sending off enough heat to power an entire city. The woman ahead of me finishes with her purchase, and I move forward and set the four six-packs of Fat Tire on the belt.

Yeah. I grabbed them all.

The moment he sees what I have, the air charges with tension.

“Come on, now you’re just being spiteful. You took all the beer,” he says.

“What’s wrong?” says the blonde.

“Is someone asking for your autograph again?” asks Mila/Bambi.

“She took your beer? Who is she?” Ashley asks suspiciously, sharp green eyes raking me up and down.

I huff. “No one you know.”

He lowers his eyes to half-mast. “Fine. I’m open for a trade. A package of Oreos for a six-pack. What do you say, sweetheart?”

Feigning nonchalance, I shrug and repeat his words from earlier. “Fat Tire—so good, right? It’s my favorite. The first beer, I drink in a frosted mug. The second one, well, I take my time, sit back in a chair on the deck, and take small sips so I can lick every malty drop.” Okay, that doesn’t make sense. Wouldn’t I savor every malty drop? I mean, I wouldn’t actually lick the beer or the mug. Yeah. That’s a miss. But I had to get lick in there!

Tags: Ilsa Madden-Mills Romance