Page 22 of Tripping on a Halo

I found a couple of aspirins in the pocket of my purse and washed them down with the remainder of my drink. I set down the glass and attempted to lick some sugar off my cheek.

“Want another?” The bartender, a chick with piercing blue eyes and steroid-enhanced shoulders, grabbed my glass and raised her eyebrows at me. I nodded. Someone bumped into my stool and I scooted closer to the bar, the place filling up. I glanced down at my dress, feeling self-conscious, the vegetable couture out of place in this setting. A heavily tatted guy squeezed up to the bar next to me, resting his massive forearms on the bar, and flashed me a smile that probably had its own mugshot. “Hey.”

I managed a smile and unlocked my phone. I should call Ansley and ask her to pick me up before it got too late. The bartender slid another bright yellow drink toward me and I picked it up, taking a big sip. I tried Ansley, didn’t get an answer, then texted her.

I need a ride. I’m downtown. Call me.

The tatted-up stranger moved closer and I avoided eye contact, gluing my eyes to the television above the bar. Sitting at the bar had been a bad idea. So had running Adam off. Rethinking it, he hadn’t needed to go to his ex-girlfriend’s right away. It was Friday night for pickles sake! I bet she was on her own hot date, clueless of the fact that she had a heartbreakingly lovely man abandoning other women and pining for her.

“I’ve got a place around the corner.” The man’s voice was gruff, and he moved into my personal space, the proximity bringing an aroma of French fries and smoke. Unfortunately, French fries are a bit of a weakness for me, and I found myself leaning in for another sniff, almost as if I was interested.

I forced myself to straighten on the stool and busied myself with another sip of my cocktail. “Thank you, but I’m not interested,” I said, in a rather prim fashion that would have made Miss Manners clap her hands with joy.

“Aw, come on. A little thing like you, all alone in here?” His hand settled on my lower back. “You look like you need a man to protect you.”

I choked back a laugh, thinking through the many ways to die. A public bar, stocked with bouncers and witnesses, was one of the safest places a person could be. Assuming you didn’t get trampled in a panicked crowd, captured in a freak fire that sealed the doors shut, or involved in a bar brawl, the chances of death were similar to that of a local library. My biggest danger would come when I left the place, which would sure as heck not be with him. “Nah, I’m good.”

He leaned forward, going in as if for a kiss, and I jerked away when the bristle of his beard brushed against my cheek. “Excuse me!” I shoved my hand against his sternum and raised my voice loud enough to be heard by every bar-hopper in a ten-foot radius. “Go away!”

His face darkened, a scowl forming, and just like that, my over-friendly ex-con turned into a pissed-off drunk.

16

“Okay, where is she?” Nate raised his voice as they entered the sports bar, the noise from the crowd a sharp contrast from the quiet street.

Declan looked over the crowd, trying to see Nicola’s platinum-blonde hair. He glanced down at his phone. She had started texting him fifteen minutes ago, when they were over at the Ale House, enjoying a bucket of beer and wings. Unlike her normal texts, which were a wide range of begging him for sex, or bitching at him for breaking up with her, this string had been different.

Are you busy?

I’m at Bullwinkle’s, and there’s a guy here that won’t leave me alone.

I lost my purse at Poor Paul’s and don’t have money for cab fare.

He’d responded, and let her know they were on their way. Paying their tab, they’d headed straight over, battling the downtown crowd to rescue her, a plight that Nate had bitched about the entire time. Declan sent her a text.

We’re here. Where are you?

“I swear, it’s like you don’t want to get laid. Those girls at Ale House were ripe for the picking.”

“They were idiots.” Declan squeezed past a group of coeds, and scanned the high tops by the window. No Nicola.

“They were drunk college girls. Do you know the next time we’ll have a shot at eighteen-year-old pussy?” Nate dropped his voice on the last word and flashed a smile at the closest woman in apology.

“Umm… now?” Declan nodded to a group of girls at a six-top. “Go for it.”

Nate gripped his shoulder, pulling him closer as they moved toward the bar. “All I’m asking is for you to act interested. Smile. You’re like going out with that guy from the Addams Family… the creepy quiet one.”

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