“Let me walk you.” I tilt her face up until she meets my eyes.
“It’s not far,” she says. “I’ll be okay.”
“It’s late and you’re . . .”
“Drunk?” She laughs, then shakes her head.
“I wasn’t going to say that.”
“What were you going to say, then?”
You’re too fucking beautiful for your own good. “You’re new here. But yeah, you have been drinking.”
“There’s nothing like a good cry to kill a girl’s buzz.”
“Either let me walk you or get you a cab.”
She meets my eyes, and I see the indecision on her face. That’s good. I’d be worried if she immediately agreed to walk in the dark with a complete stranger. “Okay,” she says. “A couple of questions?”
“Your name might be a nice place to start—if there’s a way you can give it to me without the mating ritual.”
Jesus. I was two seconds away from having my hand between her legs, and she doesn’t know my name. I forgot I didn’t give it to her earlier. “I feel like the ‘mysterious stranger’ thing is working for me. I’d hate to lose that advantage so early in the night.” She laughs, and I smile. I like her laugh. A lot. “I’m joking.”
She shakes her head and holds her hand to my lips before I can say more. “You’re right. I only need a mysterious stranger tonight. No names.”
“But I already know yours.”
She shrugs. “Call me but love and I’ll be new baptized.”
The line from Elena’s favorite play is like a punch to the gut. “Do you always walk around quoting Shakespeare?”
“Only Romeo and Juliet.” Jesus. She has layers beneath her layers, and I want to learn about each one.
“What else do you need to know about me before I walk you home?”
“Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” she asks, but the question comes with a smile that makes her eyes crinkle at the corners.
I shake my head. “Can’t say that I have.”
“And are you just hanging out with me tonight because you’re trying to hide the fact that you’re gay?”
I laugh—something I’ve done so rarely in the last three years that it feels foreign coming from my lips. “I’m a little offended that you feel the need to ask after that kiss.” She only shrugs. “I promise you I’m not gay, but if I were, I’d still want to make sure you got home okay.”
“I have a bad track record with men. The fact that you kissed me means you’re either gay, married, or have irredeemable character flaws.”
“Oh, I definitely do. I’m an asshole, remember?”
“That’s what you said, but I haven’t seen any evidence to support that claim yet.” She sighs and rolls back her shoulders as if bracing herself for something. “A cab is unnecessary. It’s only a couple of blocks. You can walk me.”
I take her hand to help her off the counter, and the front of her body brushes mine as she stands.
“Thanks,” she whispers. She looks up at me through dark lashes, and I freeze for a beat, fighting the temptation to dip my head and taste those sweet lips again. But I’m not sure I could stop there, and it would take me no time at all to have her against the counter again, my hand up her skirt while I discovered her sweet spots. I resist and release her hand.
When we exit the bathroom, curious eyes follow us to the front door, where I grab my trench coat off a hook. “Which one’s yours?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t have one.”
I blink at her. “It’s thirty degrees outside.”
She shrugs. “I’ll be fine.”
I hold mine open. “Here. Wear this.”
“No, you don’t have to do that.”
“My mother taught me to be a gentleman. Don’t make me disappoint her.”
She smiles and lets me help her into the coat. The wool trench hits her mid-shin and is almost big enough to wrap around her twice, but she looks adorable. “Thank you,” she says softly.
“Where are you staying?” I ask when we reach the sidewalk.
“The Tiffany Hotel on Fourth and White Bank. I think it’s . . .” She spins in a full circle before stopping and pointing in the direction of Second. “That way.”
I take her by the shoulders and turn her a one-eighty to face in the direction of Fourth. “I think you mean that way.”
She worries her bottom lip between her teeth, then nods. “I guess I’m glad you’re walking me.”
There’s a bite in the air, and her nose turns pink as we walk. “I take it you’re not from Michigan if you didn’t think to bring a coat,” I say, as if her Southern accent didn’t give it away.
“I’m from a little town in Alabama called Jeffe.” She wraps her arms around herself and shivers. “I don’t think I’m cut out for Michigan. The cold cuts right through me.”