Some kind of familiar rock music is playing from the speakers in the ceiling. There’s a small stage to the left where bands usually play, but no one’s playing tonight. That doesn’t diminish the party-like mood in the atmosphere though, because I can barely hear Andrew talking to me over the music and the shouting voices all around me.

“Can you play pool?” he leans in, shouting near my ear.

I shout back, “I have a few times! But I suck at it!”

He tugs my hand and we walk toward the pool tables and the brighter light, pushing our way carefully through people standing around in just about every available walkable space.

“Sit here,” he says, able to lower his voice a little with the speakers in front of us. “This’ll be our table.”

I sit down at a small round table pressed against a wall where just over my head and to my left there is a staircase leading up to a second floor on the other side of me. I nudge the cigarette-laden ashtray across the table and away from me with the tip of my finger as a waitress walks up.

Andrew is talking to a guy a few feet away next to the pool tables, probably about joining a game.

“Sorry about that,” the waitress says, taking the ashtray and replacing it with a clean one, setting it upside-down upon the table. She washes the top of the table off afterwards with a wet rag, lifting the ashtray to get the spot under it.

I smile up at her. She’s a pretty black-haired girl, probably just turned twenty-one herself and she’s holding a serving tray on one hand.

“Can I get yah anything?”

I only have one chance to act like I’m asked that question a lot without being carded, so I say almost immediately, “I’ll have a Heineken.”

“Make that two,” Andrew says stepping back up with a pool stick in his hand.

The waitress does a double-take when she notices him, and like Andrew in the elevator with me, I’m eating the hell out of it. She nods and glances back down at me with that you-are-one-lucky-bitch look before walking away.

“That guy’s got one more game and then we’ve got the table,” he says, sitting down on the empty chair.

The waitress comes back with two Heineken’s and sets them in front of us.

“Just wave if yah need anything,” she says before leaving again.

“She didn’t card you,” he says, leaning across the table so no one will hear.

“No, but that doesn’t mean I won’t eventually get carded—that happened once in a bar in Charlotte; Natalie and me were almost drunk by the time we were carded and sent packing.”

“Well, then just enjoy it while you can.” He smiles, bringing his beer to his lips and taking a quick drink.

I do the same.

I’m starting to wish I hadn’t brought my purse so I wouldn’t have to keep up with it, but when it’s our turn to play a game of pool, I set it on the floor under our table. We’re kind of off in a cubby-hole so I’m not too worried about it.

Andrew takes me over to the stick rack.

“What’s your pleasure?” he asks, waving his hands across the space in front of the rack. “You have to pick one that feels right.”

Oh, this is going to be fun; he actually thinks he’s teaching me something.

I play coy and clueless, scanning the pool sticks like one might books on a shelf and then take one down. I run my hands along the length of it and hold it out like I would to hit a ball, as if to get the feel of it. I know I look totally dumb-blonde right about now, but that’s exactly how I want to look.

“This one’s as good as any,” I say with a shrug.

Andrew racks the balls in the triangular rack, switching solid for stripe all around until he gets the sequence right and then slides them across the table and into position. Carefully, he removes the rack and shoves it in a slot underneath the table.

He nods. “Want to break em’?”

“Nah, you can.”

I just want to see him lookin’ all sexy, concentrating and leaning over the table.

“Alright,” he says and positions the cue ball. He spends a few seconds twisting the head of his stick into a square of chalk and then sets the chalk on the side of the table.

“If you’ve played before,” he says, moving back around in position with the cue ball, “then I’m sure you know the basics.” He points the end of the stick at the cue ball. “Obviously, you only hit the white ball.”

This is funny, but he’s got this one comin’.

I nod.

“If you’re stripes, the only balls you want to sink in any pockets are the striped balls—hit one of the solids and you’re only helping me beat you.”

“What about that black ball?” I point at the 8 ball near the center.

“If you sink that one before all of your stripes,” he says with a grim face, “you lose. And if you sink the white ball, you lose your turn.”

“Is that all?” I ask, twisting the head of my stick in a square of chalk now.

“For now, yeah,” he says; I guess he’s letting me slide about the few other basic rules.

Andrew takes a couple steps back and leans over the table, arching his fingers on the blue felt and resting the stick strategically within the curl of his index finger. He slides the stick back and forth a couple of times to steady his aim before pausing and then slamming the head of it into the cue ball, scattering the others all over the table.

Good break, baby, I say to myself.

He sinks two—one stripe, one solid.

“What’ll it be?” he asks.

“What’ll what be?” I continue to play dumb.

“Solids or stripes? I’ll let you choose.”

“Oh,” I say as if I’m just getting it, “doesn’t matter; I’ll take the ones with stripes, I guess.”

We’re straying a little from the proper way to play 8 Ball, but I’m pretty sure he’s doing it for my benefit.

My turn comes and I walk around the table searching for that perfect shot. “Are we calling them, or what?”

Andrew looks at me curiously—maybe I should’ve said it more like: Do I hit any of my balls that I want? Surely, he’s not onto me already.

“Just pick any striped ball you think you can sink and go for it.”

OK, looks like I’m still hustling his clueless butt.

“Wait, aren’t we going to bet something?” I ask.

He looks surprised, but then surprise turns to devious.

“Sure, what do you want to bet?”

“My freedom back.”

Andrew frowns. But then his delicious lips turn upward again once he realizes that I apparently don’t know how to play pool.

“Well, I’m a little hurt you would want it back,” he says, switching the stick back and forth between his hands with one end of it standing against the floor, “but sure, I’ll take that bet.”

Just when I think the agreement has been made he adds, putting up one finger: “However, if I win, I get to take that do-whatever-I-say to a whole new level.”

It’s my turn to raise a brow.

“A whole new level how?” I ask in a leery, sidelong glance.

Andrew rests his stick against the table and props his hands on the edge, leaning into view of the light. His deep-set grin, just the shear intent behind it, sends a shiver up my back.

“Is it a bet, or not?” he asks.

I’m pretty sure I can beat him, but now he kind of has me scared shitless. What if he’s better than me and I lose this bet and end up eating those bugs or hanging my bare ass out of the moving car? Those were the types of things I wanted to keep him from eventually trying to force me to do—I never did forget that he said: we’ll get to that. Sure, I could refuse anything he told me; he assured me of that before we left Wyoming, but not having to go through all that in the first place is all I wanted.

Or…wait…what if it’s sexual in nature?

Oh, it’s on now…I almost hope that he does win.

“It’s a deal.”

He smiles wickedly and pulls away from the table, taking his stick with him.

A small group of guys and two girls just finished their game at the table next to ours and a few of them have started watching us.

I lean over the table, position my stick much the same way Andrew had, slide it back and forth through my fingers a few times and smack the cue ball dead-center. 11 smacks into 15 and 15 smacks into 10, sinking both of them into a corner pocket.

Andrew just looks at me, his pool stick resting vertically between his fingers in front of him.

He raises a brow. “Was that beginner’s luck, or am I being hustled?”

I grin and walk around to the other side of the table to gauge my next shot. I don’t answer. I just smile faintly and keep my eyes on the table. Purposely taking the shot closest to Andrew, I bend over the table in front of him (covertly glancing down to make sure my boobs aren’t in full view of the guys watching directly across from me) and measure my shot before hitting the 9 hard into the side pocket.

“I’m being hustled,” Andrew says behind me, “and teased.”

I rise up and skim my grinning eyes across his as I make my way to the end of the table.

I miss this shot on purpose. The table is set almost perfectly and I might actually be able to pull off an easy win, but I don’t want it to be easy.

“Ah, hell no, babe,” he says stepping up, “none of that pity-shot bullshit—you could’ve sank the 13 easily.”

“My finger slipped.” I look at him coyly.

He shakes his beautiful head at me and narrows his eyes, knowing full-well I’m lying.

Finally, we just go at it: he sinks three balls flawlessly, one turn after the next, before missing the 7. I sink another one. Then he sinks one. And we do this back and forth, taking our time with each shot, but both of us missing every now and then to keep the game going.

Now it’s down to business. It’s my turn and the only balls left on the table are his 4, the cue and the 8. The 8 is six inches too far from a perfect corner shot in either direction, but I know I can bank it on one side of the table and let it come back to this side and sink it in the left.

Two more guys have started watching, no doubt because of the way I’m dressed (I’ve been listening to their quiet comments about my ‘t-n-a’ the whole time, especially when I bend over to take a shot), but I don’t let them distract me. Though, I’ve noticed Andrew’s eyes on them a lot and it excites me that he’s at all jealous.

I point my stick at the table and call it, “Left pocket.”

I move around to the side and crouch down at eye-level with the table to see if my lining is off. I stand back up and check the lining of the cue and the 8 again from another perspective and then lean over the table. One. Two. Three. On the forth slide-back, I smack the cue gently and it hits the 8 at just the right angle, sending it against the right side of the table where it bounces back a few inches over and sinks flawlessly into the left pocket.

The few guys watching on the other side of me make various noises of tamed excitement as if I can’t hear them.

Tags: J.A. Redmerski The Edge of Never Book Series
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