Page 31 of We Were Once

“Borrowed? I think that’s called stealing.”

Todd yells from across the table, “We playing or what?”

“Give her a minute. I want to hear this story.” Returning to her, I add, “Maybe I misjudged you. I mean, if you’re willing to break the law, what’s a few little rules?”

Taking the stick in hand, she walks around it once. She’s a tease, but I’m still not sure if she even realizes it. “I told you I’m not that innocent.”

If she knew how much I’m already into her, she wouldn’t have to sell me. I’m already buying. I touch her, tug her in quick, and whisper in her ear, “And here I thought I was trouble.”

“You are trouble, Joshua Evans.” She runs her hand up my arm and around to my back. “You’re just the kind of trouble I need.”

“He’s trouble, all right.”

Fuck me.

I should have known Dana would show up. Leave it to her to ruin a good night.

11

Chloe

I’ve seen enough movies to know how this goes. Joshua is a local with a reputation built long before I showed up in this town. Every girl in here has been eyeing him since he walked in and staring daggers at me. So, I think it’s safe to assume that this woman is one of many who have had their heart broken. By him, still remains to be seen.

His hand hasn’t left my hip, but his irritation from the intrusion is written across his face. He says, “I’m not looking for a fight, Dana.”

With her hands up in surrender, she says, “Geez, just stopping by to say hi.” If the tight smile didn’t do it, the death glare my way contradicts the nonchalance she’s trying to portray. It doesn’t take a psychologist to figure out she suffers from lingering feelings.

“Hi,” he replies, glancing at her.

“Haven’t seen you in a while. Where you been keeping yourself?” When she steps closer, I feel oddly possessive and lean against him.

The heat of his hand is felt through the denim as he slides it across my lower back and anchors it on my waist. “School started, working . . .” He eyes me. “Spending time with my girlfriend.”

I notice how polite and steady his voice has remained despite her trying to get a reaction from him. I still don’t like being in the middle of this.

“Girlfriend? That’s new for you.”

He stands, and says, “If you’ll excuse us . . .” We move to the other side of the table, and he leans against a column. I pretend to watch Todd take the shot, but I keep my eyes on the other woman as she tries to hold a conversation with Bryant, who appears disinterested. Annoyance eventually gets the better of her, and she leaves, blond hair swinging.

I’m glad we moved. Joshua’s discomfort was becoming mine. He says, “It’s your turn.”

“Motherfuck,” Todd gripes. “I sank the cue ball.”

My attention returns to the green felt, and I wiggle my shoulders in celebration. “I’ll take the victory.”

Joshua laughs, but I know he’s still dealing with the aftermath of that confrontation by how it doesn’t reach his eyes. “One for Fox.”

Todd asks, “Another game?”

“Happy to kick your ass twice.” I take the stick and chalk up again while he racks. I come back to Joshua, and ask, “Want to play?”

“I’m enjoying being a spectator. You’re good.”

Without the distraction of the other woman, the sweet way he called me baby has me floating on cloud nine. “You know it, baby.” I wink, serving that sweetness right back.

Todd looks at me. “Ready to break?”

“Trying not to,” I reply offhandedly.

He doesn’t get it, but I’m thinking Joshua does because he pulls me back against him, curled around my backside. “Have you been hurt before, Fox?”

I spin around in his arms. “Hurt feelings sure, but not a broken heart.” I shake my head ever so slightly. “I’ve not been lucky enough to experience that kind of emotion.”

Gently pinching my chin, he stares into my eyes. He inhales, drinking me in with his mocha eyes. I never thought I’d be the kind of girl who uses food or weather to describe features of another, but here I am, feeling the steam weaving between us from the embrace. The seriousness dissipates and his eyes narrow as if I’m speaking a foreign language. “Not getting a broken heart is lucky?”

“No. I’ve just never experienced feelings deep enough to damage me when it ends.” Realizing, with him, the potential is there, I catch my breath, trying to regulate it. “I must sound crazy.”

“You don’t.” Dipping down to eye level, he says, “I’ll let you in on a secret.” My heart is beating on the edge of each breath when he lowers his hands to my hips, tucking his fingers into my belt loops. He has me right where he wants me, right where I want to be. “I haven’t felt that way about anyone either.”

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