I Love My Hope (Nicole's Erotic Romance) (7 page)

BOOK: I Love My Hope (Nicole's Erotic Romance)
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When we
arrive at the bar, I look at its door. Why didn’t I try harder to make sure she
was okay when I saw her lost here, last weekend? What kind of a friend am I?

I climb
out. Josh insists on paying our cabbie. “Thanks, man,” he says, distractedly
pulling too many bills out of his wallet.

My cabbie
gives him half of them back. “No
, that’s too

I walk
over and kneel down in front of his window, so we’re eye level. He smiles an
encouraging smile.

“Let’s do
this again soon, okay?” I say.

He grins,
that one missing tooth still charming my socks off. “Anytime.”

I tap his
door. “Have a good night.”

“It will
work out. Don’t worry,” he says to me, as he puts the car in gear.

I turn
and Josh isn’t there. Shit!

Wait for me!” Running after him, I fumble for my ID as I open the door. I
frantically wave it at the bouncer who nods in the direction Josh went. I look
over and see the back of Josh’s head moving fast and ahead of him, Amber’s
blonde hair unmistakable, at the bar. I have to beat him! But the crowd makes
it difficult! By the time I see that Amber isn’t alone – that she’s
talking to a handsome man who’s holding her hand – it’s too late! Josh
has drawn back his arm and lands a punch hard into the guy’s jaw. Neither of
them even saw him walk up. I am a failure as a friend.

yells our names, looks guilty as hell and reaches for the stranger, who turns
and looks at me. When we lock eyes, I see his face move with a gasp – like
gasped the night she first saw Josh. The
surprise in his eyes flickers at me before he turns his attention to Josh, his
attacker. It’s as though seeing me was more surprising than the hit.

Life has
a funny way of taking you places you never saw coming. What happens next
between Josh and Amber is their business and their story, but when they leave
to make some very tough decisions, I am left alone with this stranger, and we
look at each other with the same awkward expression, not knowing what to do.
Motioning to the chair Amber vacated, he says, “You look like you could use a

I nod and
sit down, inspecting him. “You, too. Your jaw is pretty red.”

“Is it?”
He touches it, wiggles it around. “Nah. It’s okay.” He motions to the bartender
– a woman who reminds me of Trinity from
The Matrix
, and she leaves to get a drink.


I look
into his eyes, unflinching, taking a moment. He is the most handsome man I’ve
ever met… besides Michael. This man is very different than the brooding ball of
mystery that Michael is.
man has
an ease and open confidence about him that makes him feel more present, when I
look at him. Like he is nowhere else but here with me.

I hold
out my hand. “I’m Nicole. Very odd to meet you.”

He’s been
thoughtfully inspecting me, too, and he smiles. “Yes. It is.” He holds my hand
a moment longer than is necessary and…I don’t mind.

returns and places a beautiful glass of white wine in front of me.


problem,” she says, serenely. I watch her walking away. She had a weird look on
her face. I let go of his hand. What is going on here?

glass,” I say, changing the subject and sipping from it. “Oh, good wine, too. Buttery.”

He nods,
but says nothing. I’m nervous, so I ask, “So, what were you and Amber doing?”

out a problem. Is she a good friend of yours?”

one of my best friends.”

His thumb
absently moves up and down his almost empty glass. “You have more than one?”

I look at
it as I answer, “I have two.”

“And your
boyfriend? Is he your best friend, too?”

I laugh.
“Nice way to find out if I have a boyfriend.”

He smiles
a disarming, provocative smile. “Caught me.”

I tilt my
head, looking at him from the corner of my eye. “And you? Are you here alone?”

didn’t answer my question,” he says.

“And… now
we’re even,” I smile, biting my bottom lip without knowing it. My body is
turned completely to him, and his to mine. Trinity-Bartender sets down another
pint in front of him and takes his old, warm one away. Neither of us looks at
her this time.

I’ll go first,” he says, but his thumb distracts me, now melting the ice on the
new chilled glass. He glances from it to me, amused. “What it is about my

I avert
my gaze innocently. “What do you mean?”

was staring at it, too.”

makes me grin. “She was? That’s hilarious.” I laugh, taking a sip of wine and
looking away as I debate whether or not to be honest with him. Honesty wins.
“Okay.” I look back to him and he’s smiling in such a way that shocks my
system. “Um…it’s just that it’s very sexy what you’re doing. And the way the
condensation is melting as you rub that glass…well, it implies your body heat
is high.” I look away, embarrassed.

His eyes
narrow in thoughtful concentration. “I see. I see. What if I do this?” I look
at him. He brings up the glass and licks it like a dog, but not in a sexy way,
in a goofy way that is funny as hell. I burst out laughing and he grins.

“Oh yeah!”
I joke, “Just like that. That was incredibly hot.”

everyone watching? Do they all want me now?” He puffs up his chest and looks
around like a proud rooster among hens.

are. The entire room is enthralled.”

Good.” He settles back with a relaxed smile. He’s very
There isn’t anything posed or self-aware about his
attractiveness, which is why his peacocking was funny. It’s the total opposite
of his natural state of being.

“So, we
got off topic. I’m Mark. I live in San Francisco. Yes, it’s far away, but
please don’t make that face. Come back to me, here.” He points from my eyes to
his. He caught me processing that San Francisco isn’t here. He doesn’t live
Don’t get too excited about this
one, because he’s leaving
. And why do I feel disappointed by that? I just
met him.

“I wasn’t
thinking anything. So, what are you doing in New York? Vacation?” I sound light
and airy. Good.

“I’m here
to meet some potential investors about an app idea I have. And as to why I’m
here…” He points to where he’s sitting. “I had hoped I’d be on a date tonight,
and she lives in the area, but she met someone before I came to town so…here I
am alone. And no, there’s no girlfriend back home.”


He smiles. “Don’t look so sad for me.”

“I wasn’t
sad for you. I was wondering how someone could stand you up.”

“You and
Amber really are friends.”

“Did she
say the same thing?”

less aplomb.”

I laugh,
and sip my wine. “So, are you pining after your almost-date?”

He looks
away, both hands on his glass as he stares at it. “I barely knew her, but I
feel like if I’d lived here and not so far away, things would have turned out
differently.” He turns his head to me.

I reach
out and touch his hand. “You know what? My momma always told me,
things happen for a reason
.” The way he
looks at me makes my heart skip. I pull my hand away.

He looks
at me, taking in what I said. “I think that’s very wise.”

I smile.
I want to look away, but the pull to him is so strong that I feel like I can’t.
His eyes are caramel brown, his hair light; the color of sand when its wet. His
skin has a light tan to it and his neck is very strong above broad shoulders.
But it’s the open expression he seems at home in, that is the most attractive
thing about him.


“Yes, Mark.”

“Do you
have anywhere you have to be tonight?”

A chill
goes through me and my wall rises up, fast. I turn away, cross my legs,
assuming all sorts of things as I say, “Uh
. I just
met you. There is no way I’m going home with you to help you get over some
girl, so just get it out of your head.”

he reaches out and touches my arm. “No, no, no! God! Nothing like that!
Seriously, look at me, please.”

I look
down at his hand on my arm. He removes it quickly as I suspiciously
side-eyeball him.

Look. Look at my face. I’m not interested in any more one-night stands. Even if
you threw yourself at me, I’d say no. I’m not going down that road again.”

The image
this springs to mind is of Michael turning me down when I threw myself at him.

“Whoa. What
was that face?”

I cover
my face with my hands. “You saw that?”

saw that.”

I laugh,
peek at him through fingers and bring my hands back down. “Let’s just say
you’re not the only one who’s been burned.”

He leans
back, like he’s touched something hot. “Recent breakup?”

“No. Just
a distant memory coming back to haunt me.”
… but he doesn’t need to know everything.
change the subject. No more broken-heart talk.”

“Agreed. But my heart’s not broken. It
just got slapped around a bit

I nod.
“Sometimes hope is the hardest thing to let go of.”

“You and
best friends. Yes, it is. Because
it’s in our heads,” he adds thoughtfully, staring at the bottles on the back

I run a
finger over the top of my wine glass, considering what he said. “Our
imagination has a powerful way of making the unreal, real… doesn’t it?”

He nods.
“I like the way you put that.”

We both
sip from our glasses and I’m suddenly aware that I wish I hadn’t shot him down
about taking him home with me. His lips are very kissable.
late now.
Plus he said he’d turn me down. Please tell me
not why I want to jump him.

the thought out of my head, I ask, “So, what were you going to ask before I so
rudely told you off?”

laughs. “Well, I was thinking I’d like to see more of the city. You’ve got a
jacket. I’ve got a jacket. How about we take these jackets for a walk?”

I smile.
“That sounds really nice.”

A warm
smile spreads from his eyes to his whole face. “Great. Let me take care of the check
and we can go.”

I nod and
watch him make the universal
check please
hand gesture.

“So, my
turn for the summary,” I say, as we wait.

“Go. But
remember, since we don’t know each other, it’s almost anonymous, so you can be
as honest as you want to be.”

“Oh God!
The pressure. Okay. I’m not a relationship, either. Nor do I want to be, so be
warned.” He laughs, puts his hands up in surrender. I continue, “I’m a painter,
and I’m about to have my first show, which – since we’re being honest
– I’ll confess that I’m very scared about having. I’m afraid –
since we’re being honest – that no one will be there and if they are
there, they’ll hate my work. There, I said it.” I sit up extra straight like a
kid looking for a gold star.

He smiles
at my silliness. “Well done! You made that look easy. Here let me try.”


nervous about meeting with investors tomorrow, and about showing them my idea,
because they could think it’s stupid, mediocre, and not a viable financial

We look
at each other.

wasn’t easy,” he admits.

“It’s not
easy at all.”


“It’ll be
fine. They’ll think the app is amazing and give you zillions of dollars on

“Yes! And
everyone is going to love your paintings! You’ll be praised as a genius!”

Let’s get out of here.” I stand up and he follows suit, turning to finish
signing the tab. As he rose, I was shocked by how tall he is, and how well
built. I take his check-distraction as an opportunity to scan his body. You can
only see so much when someone’s hunched on a bar stool, but man! Wow. We’re
talking calendar material. Yikes.

you, 6’4”?”

laughs. “I love watching your face, Nicole. I don’t think you know how much
your face shows what you’re thinking.”

I stare
up at him, flabbergasted. “Oh shit.”

“See?” he
says. “Like right now, you’re thinking
do I love
It’s so obvious.”

cracks me up, and I give him a light smack on his chest and start walking out,
with him close behind. When we walk past the bouncer, I sneak another look,
because there’s a sparkle in his eyes like he knows something about us.

BOOK: I Love My Hope (Nicole's Erotic Romance)
9.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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