I lurk in the background, a silent observer.
Another woman, this one with tan skin and wavy hair, wanders over to retrieve the redhead. At first it seems she protests—with him plying on, trying to insert himself between the women—but then she relents and lets her friend take her away.
I spend a quick second collecting myself, putting on an invisible mask, before I strut over. When I reach the bar counter, I don’t make eye contact. I don’t acknowledge his presence at all. I lean against the counter and wiggle my fingers at the bartender as if too polite to outright call him over.
Already I can feel his attention shift to me. He plays silent observer himself as the bartender finally moves over and asks me what I want to drink.
I bite my lip and give him an uncertain smile. “What do you recommend?”
The bartender almost rolls his eyes—I’m sure he’s dealt with enough clueless young women throughout his time that my fake cutesy behavior doesn’t charm him. He’s swamped at the counter with a dozen other patrons trying to place their orders.
But I don’t care about pissing off the bartender. My bashful, lip-bitten smile does what I’d hope it would.
The Red Dot cuts in. “Try a sour apple. They’re delicious and not too strong to get you drunk off your ass.”
My gaze swings over to him. My small, shy smile remains. “I’ve never had one of those before. What’s in it?”
“It doesn’t matter. It’s good. Trust me.” He turns to the bartender, holding out a twenty. “We’ll have two.”
“Oh, you don’t need to buy me a drink. Here.” I start digging around in my wristlet.
He waves a dismissive hand. “It’s no big deal. I can afford to buy an extra drink or two. Besides, how much would it suck if I recommended you a drink and you didn’t like it? At least it’s for free.”
“That’s one way of looking at it.”
“Nothing wrong with a unique perspective.”
A soft laugh falls from my lips. It’s as orchestrated and insincere as my lip-bitten smile, but it serves its purpose. He rests his arm on the counter and leans closer, invading my space. Around us, the music beats on and club-goers eagerly writhe trying to keep up.
His interest is unmistakable as a few seconds go by and he holds my gaze.
He has a swimmer’s build, trim and lean with long arms and long legs. His dirty blond hair is messy and tousled, though not by chance. He must’ve used a whole can of mousse to style it that way. As we stare at each other, he shifts even closer, his lips twisting into half a grin.
“Where are your friends?”
I look away. “I’m actually here alone.”
“By yourself at a club like this? Brave. I like it.”
“I’m not from around here. But I wanted a fun night out.”
His twisted grin spreads, his eyes gleaming. “Fortunately for you, I can show you one.”
The bartender returns with our drinks, sliding them across the counter. We take hold of them and turn away from the bar.
“I’m Quinn. What’s your name?”
“Sasha,” I answer. I accept his hand when he reaches out to give it a gentle shake.
“Okay, Sasha-not-from-around-here. Let’s go somewhere private where we can talk. Get to know each other.”
I smile as he guides me by the small of my back. “I’d love that.”
Quinn drainsthe last of his sour apple. When he notices I’m only taking a tiny sip of mine, he tips up the bottom of the glass, forcing me to swallow a larger mouthful. Though he refused to tell me what alcohol is in the drink, I detect the potent, earthy taste of none other than tequila.