Polly gave him an impish smile that made Nick feel as though he’d been granted access to a secret club. To prevent himself from acting on the way her touch made him feel, he flagged down the bartender, Kelso. He nearly ordered Polly’s childhood favorite, an ice cold root beer, before she interrupted to order a vodka martini.
Nick winced, and she immediately snapped out a defensive, “What?”
“Why don’t you just order a can of paint thinner?”
How had she changed this much? She’d once found his love of Sprite to be boring and lacking in adventure, and he’d found her love of root beer immature. Sweetly so, although he’d never admitted it to her face. And now she was drinking high octane cocktails.
Her eyebrows were somewhere around Mars and her cheeks had pinked.
She’d forgotten their game where they’d mock each other’s drinks. Had she forgotten everything about him?
“Are you judging my martini?” she asked.
“I haven’t changed in that regard,” he said, starting to think that meeting up hadn’t been such a smart idea. Then again, he could finally discard her from the what-if thoughts that followed him across the pastures back in Texas.
Her eyes narrowed. “Judgment from the cowboy drinking his stereotypical beer. Shall we put up a memorial for creativity and spontaneity?”
He scoffed and ordered a second, trying to hide his smile. She did recall the game, after all.
Kelso passed him a new bottle and Nick held up the local craft beer, turning the label toward Polly. “For the record, this is creative.”
She was still giving him that narrow-eyed look. “I bet you buy your clothes in the same store you buy your dog food and cattle tags.” She shook her head, rolling her eyes in a way that turned up both the heat inside him and his frustration over the push-pull attraction muddling his thoughts.
“So what if I do?” he retorted. “Your drink says you’re looking to get sloppy.”
She appeared so affronted he laughed.
“My drink says I’m sophisticated,” she said haughtily.
“It does,” she insisted. Her lips disappeared as she sucked them between her teeth.
“I didn’t expect you to be drinking something so strong. I expected…” That she hadn’t grown up? That she wouldn’t develop a slightly jaded, defensive edge like everyone else? “…something with an umbrella. What do you drink at home?”
“But a martini today because… flights suck?” He was probing, curious to find out more about who she was currently and how much of that old Polly was still in existence.
“Nope. It was good.”
“Your boyfriend said no to the trip, and now you have all this new lingerie with nobody to model it for?” He held his breath, hoping that she was indeed fully single. Not that it mattered to him—he was just looking to make her smile again.
“Ha,” she said flatly, her martini glass paused in front of her lips.
“It’s that bad, hanging out with me, then?”
A small giggle escaped against the rim. For a moment he saw that vibrant spark of youthfulness and life he’d expected to see sooner, and it nearly took his breath away. There was no hint of that sad, uncertain glimmer he’d seen earlier, meaning it was entirely possible to chase it away.
“You’re funny.” Polly bumped his shoulder with her own and he relaxed, knowing everything was good, everything was cool. At her core, she was still the friend he knew.
“I’ve missed picking on you,” he said.
“You’re nowhere close to picking on me.”
But he was close. She wasn’t as tough as she used to be. It was as though she was a book that had been dropped too many times, the edges softened and the cover not quite as sturdy as it had once been, not quite as able to protect the vulnerable pages inside. There was also the small fact that he was a little harsher, a little more jaded than he’d once been, too.
“What are you thinking?” Polly asked.
“I’m wondering how long you’re going to stick around once that drink is done.” He swiveled on his stool to face her more fully. There was a guy one stool over who kept casting surreptitious glances at Polly’s figure. Nick could tell he wanted to chat her up if given the chance.
Without thinking, Nick found himself subtly scooting his stool closer to Polly’s.
“You have a hot date waiting for you?” she asked, pulling her small handbag into her lap as she leaned forward to take another swallow of her drink.
“Five, actually. So if you could hurry it up…”
Polly sat expressionless for a split second before whispering, “Liar.” Her eyes were twinkling with humor. She was trying to act unaffected, but he could see she wanted to laugh, to let her guard down and play.
Why didn’t she?
They sat in silence for a few beats, the ocean washing the shores and filling the air with a soundtrack that made his entire being relax.
“So you’re single?” he asked, immediately wishing he hadn’t.
She was quiet for half a breath, then pushed back her shoulders, saying, “Let’s not talk about the past.”
“Not even about what a good kisser I am?”
“I’m not in the market for a man, and if you’re offering, I’ll bet your skills have likely atrophied.” She lowered her chin, looking at him from beneath her eyelashes with a hint of primness that made his body awaken and want to join the game—any game as long as it was with her. “And if you recall…you’re just not that memorable.”
Her insult was delivered in a playful, low tone that felt far too sensual. Or maybe it was how she’d said the words slowly, her pink lips carefully forming each one in a way that hit him with a powerful twist of longing. Polly was everything he wanted in a woman.
He leaned closer. “And why do you think my abilities may have faded?”
“Your social skills are lacking, as is your charm. So chances are you’re not kissing anyone, and those abilities are similar to second-language skills—use ’em or lose ’em.”
She was sitting up now, her body language as perky as her ponytail. He wanted to reach over and give it an affectionate tug to see if she’d turn his way again. She took another sip of her drink, as though trying to fortify herself. Or maybe shield herself from something. Maybe him.
“Do you want to help me revive those old skills?” he asked, propping his arms on the bar so he could lean closer to her. “See if they can be resuscitated?”
She allowed a flicker of a wry smile, but didn’t change the direction of her gaze.
“How about this?” He leaned even closer, placing a warm kiss on her cheek that lingered a telling second too long.
She inhaled slowly, but didn’t face him, didn’t say a thing.
“Was that passable? Does it need reviving? More practice?” He lowered his voice. “Better aim?”
USA Today Bestselling Author Shanna Hatfield writes character-driven romances with relatable heroes and heroines. Her historical westerns have been described as “reminiscent of the era captured by Bonanza and The Virginian” while her contemporary works have been called “laugh-out-loud funny, and a little heart-pumping sexy without being explicit in any way.”
“Heart-warming and leaves you with that warm fuzzy feeling.”
“A second chance novella that had me smiling bright and feeling all the emotions.”
“Spencer and April are everything and this second chance love story is perfect for a quick Valentine’s Day read.”
She is a stationery and chocolate addict and has a one-click addition. Liz has heaps of new book ideas for the future and looks forward to sharing those ideas with you, her readers.