I stared at the back of the bar, eyeing the bottles of liquor like they were the only things that could cure my humiliation. And they could, because if I drank enough, I probably wouldn’t care that Kyler had seen me in my undies and laughed.
He had laughed.
The bar was packed, everyone talking about the snowstorm that was now apparently going to make West Virginia its own personal snow-bitch. It was too late to leave. All we could do was hope it wasn’t as bad as they were predicting.
Spying an opening, I squeezed myself between a girl with a lot of blonde hair and some dude in a flannel jacket. I glanced over my shoulder and sighed. Kyler was where I’d left him, attention riveted on the statuesque brunette he apparently knew from waaay back. Her name was Sasha. She looked like a Sasha.
Ah, listen to me. I was being such a bitter bitch.
I watched her place a hand on his shoulder and lean in, so that her breasts—much bigger than mine—pressed against his arm. She said something and he smiled. Not the full smile that showed off those dimples, but more like the cat that was about to eat an entire cage of canaries.
Kyler looked up at the moment, his gaze finding me across the crowded tables. I turned away and found myself staring at the bartender’s slim black tie. Fancy.
He smiled. “What can I get you, honey?”
Since ‘a brain’ wasn’t provided in a bottle, I went with the next best thing. “A shot of Jose.”
The bartender’s brows rose a little. “ID?”
I dug out my license and handed it over.
He checked it out, and then handed it back. “Barely twenty-one.” Surprise colored his voice. “I would’ve pegged you for eighteen.”
“Story of my life.” I leaned against the bar, handing over my credit card to open a tab.
The bartender laughed as he turned, grabbing a bottle off the racks. I never knew what to do at bars. It was like an awkward experience in how not to stand out and look like I didn’t belong. It didn’t help that apparently I looked like jail-bait.
“Tequila?” said a voice from behind me. “A girl after my own heart.”
I turned and looked up, and up. An honest-to-goodness guy stood behind me, one not wearing a lumberman jacket. Dark brown hair curled along his forehead and temples. He looked nothing like Kyler—stockier and broader.
“You’re a fan of tequila?” I asked, finally finding my voice. An easy smile appeared. “Nothing warms you quite as fast as tequila. You need that around here.”
“You’re a local?”
He nodded. “I work here during the winters.”
“How’d you guess?”
Thinking about my desire to hook up with a ski instructor earlier, I almost laughed. The shot of tequila landed on the bar top and I took it. I might not be a total lush like everyone else, but I knew how to take a shot. Tipping my head back, I put the small glass to my lips. What I hadn’t expected was for my throat to catch fire.
The tequila coursed down my throat like gasoline and spilled into my insides. Eyes watering, I turned back to the bar, dragging in deep gulps of air, desperately trying to stop my gag reflex. “Holy shit…”
Mr. Ski Instructor laughed as he patted my back. “You okay? The first shot is usually brutal.”
“Yeah,” I gasped, blinking the tears out of my eyes. Once I was sure I wasn’t going to hurl it back up on him, I turned around. “Wow.”
He grinned. “It’s not that bad.”
“Oh no, not at all.” I think I was already flammable.
“I haven’t introduced myself,” he said, sticking out a free hand. A bottle of beer occupied the other. “My name is Zach.”
“Sydney.” I shook his hand. His palm was slightly calloused.
He held onto my hand for a little longer than necessary. When he finally did let go, he propped a hip against the bar. “So, you’re obviously not a local.”
“No.” I tucked my hair back and smiled.
“You with him?” He gestured over his shoulder toward Kyler with a jerk of his chin. When I nodded, he cocked his head to the side. “Friends, or…?”
“Friends,” I answered automatically, and the burn of tequila seemed to lessen the sting of saying that.
Zach’s brows rose. “I don’t think I’ve known Kyler to be just friends with a pretty girl before.”
His compliment was lost in the reality of his statement. “Well, I’ve known Kyler for all my life.” I took a breath and let it slowly. “So you know Kyler?”
He nodded. “I don’t know him very well, just from the times he comes up here. So… is it just you two?”
“We’re up here for a couple of days with some friends. Well, most of them haven’t made it up here yet. I’m from Hagerstown.”
“Oh. Pretty cool town.” He took a sip of his beer. “Where are your friends at?”
“Outside of Frederick,” I told him as I glanced over my shoulder. I couldn’t see Kyler through the mess of people. Not that I was looking for him. “They hit the snow so they’re going to try to come up tomorrow.”
Zach shook his head. “Ah, I don’t know if they’re going to make it. The snow is supposed to move in here overnight and they’re saying it’s going to be a huge storm.”
I was so not trying to think about that.
His easy smile spread, and I realized that he was really good looking. “Think it’s time for a second shot? It’s on me.”
My gaze flicked past Zach, to where Kyler was, still with Sexy Sasha. He wasn’t paying any attention to her now, though. Instead he was staring at me like he was seconds away from getting up and storming across the bar and telling me I was up past my bedtime.
He wouldn’t dare.
Kyler’s eyes narrowed.
A couple of months ago, while out celebrating my birthday and during one of the very rare times I did drink, he’d made me go home before I even got to the second Sex on the Beach, citing something along the lines that the crowd at the club was getting too rowdy.
Anger and frustration swirled, mixing with the shot of tequila. Kyler said I didn’t know how to have fun. I was apparently as interesting as a statistics formula on a Monday. Maybe that was kind of true. At that moment, part of me wanted to go back to the house and pick up the book I was reading. Maybe eat some buttery popcorn, too. Oh, and I’d brought that pair of fuzzy socks that were so toasty and—
Out of all the crazy moments to think about Nathan Balers, he popped into my head right then. I hadn’t really thought about him in over a year. He’d been my only real boyfriend, the guy I’d dated for two years in high school and most of my freshman year in college.
Looking back, I couldn’t say if I’d been in love with him or not. At the time, it’d seemed like it. The only guy I’d been interested in other than Nate had been off-limits—still was—and Nate had been it for me. Patient. Funny. Smart. Cute. While we’d done other things—namely me doing other things so I didn’t feel like the crappiest girlfriend in the world—we’d waited until our freshman year in college to have actual sex.
It hadn’t been something to write home about. And apparently it hadn’t been for him either. The sex hurt, and when it stopped hurting and had started to almost feel good, it was over. Nate had broken up with me a week later.
Over text message.
A few days after the text, Kyler had overheard Nate running his mouth at a frat party. He’d supposedly been telling the guys that I was so frigid he could barely keep it hard.
And that was the fight that ended with Kyler having a broken nose and Nate with a broken jaw and a severe limp that lasted several weeks.
Nathan Balers could go screw himself.
I knew how to have fun. I knew how to lose control. And I wasn’t frigid.
Smiling, I turned back to Zach and said, “Another shot would be great.”
Another shot turned into several more and I honestly lost track of them. At some point, I learned that Zach was the most hilarious person on the face of this Earth, or at least it seemed that way, because I couldn’t stop laughing. Then again, I’m pretty sure I would’ve laughed at a massive car pileup on the interstate.
When someone kicked on the jukebox and “County Roads” started playing, I had no idea what the lyrics were, but I sang along anyway. And when Zachie Boy caught my hand and started to pull me toward a little dance floor near the hall leading to the restrooms, I didn’t protest.
Though the bartender did. “You might want to sit this one out, honey.”
“I’m fine.” A big old smile was plastered on my face.
Zach tugged on my hand. “You heard her. She’s fine.”
The bartender’s gaze moved from me to him. “She’s not a local, Zach.”
“He knows that,” I pointed out.
“Keep that in mind, Zach.” The words sounded like a warning to me, but that didn’t make sense, and Zach was pulling me over to the square patch of floor anyway.
We started dancing, and our legs brushed. When I turned around, his hands landed on my hips. I didn’t mind. I don’t think I cared about anything. Music thrummed through my veins. Or maybe it was the tequila. Either way, it didn’t matter. Within minutes, sweat dotted my brow and I lifted my hair off my neck. The movement tugged my shirt up, exposing a slice of skin.
Fingers whispered along my stomach, startling me. “You’re so incredibly hot,” Zach said, his palm flattening against my belly, fingers climbing further up my stomach. “Seriously.”
My brows rose at that statement. Then again, besides Sasha, there weren’t a lot of prime pickings, and I did feel hot as I swayed my hips to the beat of the music.
Zach lowered his head, rubbing his chin along the side of my face. The slight stubble made me shiver. “We should get—”
My butt vibrated, distracting me. “Hold on a sec,” I said, stepping away as I pulled my cell from my back pocket. It was a text from Andrea. I glanced up. “I’ll be right back. It’s my friend.”
Zach’s smile slipped a little, but he nodded. “I’ll be waiting.”
Slipping back into the hallway, it was a little cooler and quieter. Her message read: Bored. U?
At a bar. Dancing with ski instructor. I sent that with a big, goofy smile.
Rly? Where is Kyler?
That knocked the smile off my face. With some chick named Sasha.
We exchanged a couple of texts while I used the girl’s room, and I was happy that I only stumbled a little bit. By the time I was back in the hallway, Andrea wanted to know what else I was planning to do with Zach.
IDK. Dance more?
Show him your Tiya.
“Show him your Tiya?” I said out loud. I couldn’t be that drunk. Shaking my head, I sent her a quick text back saying, Tiya?
A second later: Tits! Damn U autocorrect!
“Oh. Tits. That makes sense,” I mumbled, sliding my phone into my back pocket. Andrea gave such great advice.