“Let’s not, shall we?” I say, turning away to the bar to order another drink. I look for the bartender again and talk over my shoulder to him. “Let’s pretend this is the Emerald City and you’re the wizard behind the curtain.”

His hand slides to my hip, and I stop my movement, looking back up to his eyes. There’s a desperation there now, as if he’s pleading for me to give him something. Anything. His smile is gone, and there’s a vulnerable fear in its place. I want to comfort it.


“Please.”

I see his lips move, unable to hear anything over the sound of the music. I take a step toward him and lean up to his ear, giving him what he wants.

“Mallory.”

When I pull back, I’m suddenly shy, like telling him my name is exposing something rare in me. It’s just my name. Why does it seem so intimate?

Looking over across the bar, I see Paige is still there, chatting with the guy from earlier. She hasn’t moved from her spot, and as if she senses me watching her, she looks over at me. She looks at the man in front of me, and then looks back at me, raising her eyebrows. I shrug one shoulder a little and the heat of a blush creeps across my cheeks. I’m not doing anything bad. I don’t know why I’m embarrassed.

She gives me a nod and taps her watch. It’s our signal to wrap it up. She then turns back to her guy.

“Are you leaving?”

Looking up to him, I smile. “It appears so.”

“Give me your number.”

It’s another demand. There’s no question about his approach. He’s obviously used to getting what he wants. I look around hesitantly, trying to come up with a good excuse not to.

“If I ask your friend over there, will she give it to me?”

My smile is smug when I look over at Paige and back to him. “Not a chance.”

Paige is always keeping guys at a distance from me, saying that I need to wait on the right one and not waste time on losers in college. She was right in saying that most of the guys in college were snobs, and maybe this guy is, too. But never giving myself the opportunity to make a mistake when it comes to men has left me sheltered and inexperienced at twenty-three. I want this guy to disappear, but at the same time I don’t.

Looking back to him, I see him reaching into his pocket and taking out his phone. He stands there waiting, and I decide to give in.

Letting out a huff, I ramble off my number, thinking there’s no way he can hear it over this noise. I don’t even know this guy. Why would he want to call me? Obviously, I’m not trying to go home with him, so I’m not a sure thing, and that’s all any guy in this place is looking for.

Paige walks over as he puts his phone away, and she looks between the two of us.

“You ready?”

“Yeah. I’m right behind you,” I say as I watch her walk toward the exit.

Looking into his sapphires, I’m lost again. It’s like being in the center of a tornado. Only I don’t know if he’s the wind that’s going to wreak havoc, or if he’s the calm in the middle that will hold me steady.

He reaches out and runs the edge of his knuckles along my jaw, as if testing the softness of my skin.

“I wanted more.” I can barely hear the words, but I catch them.

I don’t know what he means, and I’m not sure how to respond. Instead, I’m frozen in place as he touches me. I should tell him to stop, or walk away, but something about him is mesmerizing, and I can’t stop myself from leaning into it.

“She’s waiting.”

I look over to see Paige leaning against the wall, watching us, and I know I should go.

He drops his hand and takes a step away, smiling at me like before. It’s an easy smile, but it doesn’t reach his eyes. There’s something there, something I can’t read, but I want to. I have this need to know everything about this stranger.

Taking a deep breath, I walk a few steps away from him, breaking the spell. Once I’ve cleared away the fog, I’m more like myself. I turn back to see he’s watching me, and this time the smile hits his eyes.

Once we get outside, my phone vibrates in my back pocket, and I pull it out to see if it’s him. Paige pulls me into a cab and tells the driver the address as I read the text.

You tasted sweeter than I ever imagined.

I’m buzzed with excitement while texting him back.

What do I call the man behind the curtain?

I smile as I wait for his response.

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