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Authors: Laura Jardine

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BOOK: Not Just a Friend
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“Thursday or Friday.”

Liam wondered if he should tell her before then. If he should say something now. It didn’t seem like the right moment though, not anymore. And if she truly loved him but hadn’t figured it out yet, one date with someone else shouldn’t change that.

Maya yawned. “I should go now.”

“You can stay the night.” Although he didn’t plan to tell her tonight, he didn’t want her to leave.

“I’m not in the mood for—”

“I know. But you can still stay over.”

She cocked her head to one side. “Why do you want me to stay over so badly?”

“It’s late, that’s all.”

“No, I’ll go home.” She gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I told you I can’t do tomorrow, right? I’m going to visit my mom. But I’ll see you next Sunday.”

“Unless your date with Seth goes really well, and you spend all weekend together.”

“Yes,” she said. “Unless, by some miracle, the date goes well.”

There was a hint of optimism in her voice.

This time, he hated it.

Chapter 9

Liam had seen her on the subway, nearly two years ago now. First he just saw a pretty woman…and then he did a double take. He
knew
that woman.

“Maya?” he said. “Remember me?”

She frowned…and then she smiled. Like she’d done when she found the pink rose on her locker and the valentine. Only this time, it didn’t make his heart hammer and his stomach lurch.

“Liam. I was a bit creeped out for a moment. That tends to happen when strange men come up to me and say my name.”

Already she seemed different. Her facial expressions were the same. However, those words were not what he’d expected.

“I looked for you on Facebook,” she said. “I couldn’t find you. Who the hell
isn’t
on Facebook?”

“Someone who’s a high school teacher.” He was rather pleased she’d bothered to look him up. But when people had hundreds—if not thousands—of Facebook friends, that was probably meaningless.

And it wasn’t like he was still in love with her. It didn’t matter, not really.

She chuckled. “I see your point. What do you teach?”

“Math.”

“That would have been my guess. I’m an accountant.”

“We should catch up sometime,” he heard himself say.

“I tell you I’m a boring-ass accountant, and that turns you on?”

“I’m not trying to pick you up.” He was curious to know where life had taken Maya, that was all.

“Okay.” She nodded. “I believe you. But my tolerance for bullshit is pretty damn low at the moment, so don’t expect me to tolerate any crap.”

“How about I give you my number, and if you want to call me, you can.”

He had no idea if she’d call, but a week later, she did.

They met at a bar near her apartment and caught up on what had happened since high school.

It
wasn’t
just how it used to be. For starters, they were now well above the legal drinking age, and they were talking in a bar rather than during math class. Their lives were so much different, and they were different, too.

No, it wasn’t the same.

But it was still good. Although he hated hearing about some of the things that had happened to her.

“My name was in the paper,” she said, her hand curled around her pint of Guinness. “My ex-fiancé was dealing drugs, as were a few other police officers. They asked me for a comment, and I declined.”

“That’s…Wow. Awful. And you had no idea?”

“No. I sure know how to pick them, don’t I?” She snorted. “My friend says she’s found the perfect guy for me. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m ready to date again. Plus I’m suspicious he’s in love with
her
, and that’s the reason he’s putting up with her ridiculous background checks. Decent guys never like me.”

“I had a crush on you, back in grade twelve.” It was easy to admit that now. He thought of the nervous boy he’d been, hiding down the hall on Valentine’s Day. That wasn’t him, not anymore.

“So what’s your dirty secret? Are you stealing money from your employer? Dealing drugs? Do you cheat?” She pointed at him. “Were you cheating off me in calculus? Is that why you did so well in that class?”

“Hey. I did better than you on some of the tests.”

“And you beat me by one percent in the end,” she grumbled. “Just saying. All the men who’ve been interested in me are seriously fucked up. I can no longer say it’s just bad luck.”

Liam had a sip of beer. “I’m not a criminal, I assure you.”

“Which sadly puts you ahead of half the guys who’ve asked me out.”

Back in high school, Maya had put the rose he gave her in a water bottle and carried it home at the end of the day. Now he imagined her scrunching up her nose and throwing the flower in the trash.

They had a couple of beers that night, and in the months that followed, they occasionally met for a drink or two.

One day, Maya stared down at her pint of beer and said, “Are you still attracted to me?”

He didn’t know what to say. Any answer he could give seemed risky.

“Yes,” he replied honestly. “But I don’t—”

“But you don’t dream of coming home to me after a long day, or taking me to Paris and all that romantic shit.”

“That’s right.”

She lifted her glass to her lips. “Just wondering. I don’t date anymore, except for the occasional man Kristy forces me to go out with, and I was thinking…maybe we could sleep together. You’re kind of cute, and I miss sex. So I’d be more than happy to fulfil your teenage fantasy.”

“How do you know that was my teenage fantasy?”

“Because I know a little about teenage boys. If you had a crush on me, I doubt you just wanted to take me out for ice cream and go to the carnival.”

And that was how they slept together for the first time. They went back to her place, and it was good. Very good.

They developed a routine. Every Sunday afternoon, they met at two o’clock—usually at his place—and had sex. Then they talked in bed for a while before she left.

He liked this routine, and he didn’t want anything more with her. Eventually he would meet another woman, one he wanted to date—and one who was available, unlike Ginny Cuthbert—and he would have to end things with Maya. But for now, he’d enjoy what he had.

One afternoon, when they were lying in bed afterward, he asked if she wanted a beer.

“Sure,” she said.

“I bought Guinness for you, even though I think it’s vile.”

Liam went to the kitchen and returned with two beers. He handed the bottle of Guinness to Maya.

“Why do you always drink this?” he asked. “Is it because you’re proud of your Irish heritage? Assuming you have any Irish heritage, that is. Or do you really think it tastes amazing?”

She tore off the corner of the label. “It reminds me of my father.”

Her father had died of a heart attack several years ago; she’d told him that before.

But this was the first time he’d seen a glimpse of the girl he remembered. Her sentimentality—that didn’t fit with the person she was now. It felt like she was letting him in, just a little, with that flash of vulnerability on her face.

He wondered if he wanted to be more than friends who slept together, then quickly dismissed the idea.

It wasn’t until after she started dating again, until he was afraid he might lose those Sunday afternoons in bed with her, that he changed his mind. A bit of a cliché, wasn’t it? Not knowing what you had until you were in danger of losing it.

But that’s what had happened to him.

* * * *

On Friday night, Liam went to the bar with Gavin. One of those bars where there were more televisions than you could count, showing every sporting event on that day.

Not that Liam cared about any of them.

“So,” Gavin said, after chugging half his beer, “you say anything to Maya?”

“Not yet. You ruined my plan.” He was only a little bitter about that.

“Because it was kind of lame. But I really am sorry. You’re going to try again, right? I promise I won’t interfere this time.”

“You better not, or I’ll—” Liam looked down at his arm, then his cousin’s. “Not punch you in the face because I wouldn’t win that fight.”

Gavin laughed. “Yeah, I don’t think you would.”

Liam had modified his plan slightly. No streamers. No cheesecake. He would make a chocolate cake instead. He’d spent hours comparing recipes, and he’d even done a trial run a couple of days ago to make sure it turned out okay. Not wanting to eat an entire cake by himself, he brought it to school and left it in the staffroom, where it was quickly demolished.

But right now, he wasn’t thinking about Sunday.

No, it was Maya’s dinner with Seth that was on his mind. He pictured Seth leaning forward at the end of the meal and kissing her on the lips, a magical kiss that would tell her this was the perfect guy…

Unlikely, but not impossible.

“Did you take my advice?” Gavin asked.

“What advice?”

“About what to do in the bedroom.”

“Could we not talk about my sex life?”

“Oooh, I think there’s a story here.”

Liam sighed. “Let’s just say she doesn’t like being bitten.”

Gavin slapped his hand on the table. “You probably did it all wrong. I bet you bit her like you were eating an apple and—”

“Could you do me a favor and
not
talk about Maya?” Liam was already thinking about her too damn much.

Gavin had a sip of beer and looked around the bar. “There’s a girl at three o’clock. Pretty sure she’s checking you out.”

“I’m not interested.” Liam didn’t bother to glance in her direction.

“Didn’t think you would be. But you should take a look. She’s not bad.”

“I don’t care.”

“Well, at least you know that some women find you attractive. I’m trying to give you hope when it comes to Maya.”

“She told me I was kind of cute.” Liam’s face warmed slightly. “And we have sex. Every week.”

“Yeah, yeah. Rub it in my face that you’re getting more action than I am.”

“I don’t think physical attraction is the problem.”

“Right. It’s your stunning personality.”

“I asked you not to talk about Maya.”

“I’m not talking about her,” Gavin said. “I’m talking about your personality. Plus you were the one who said she thought you were cute.”

True. Because he couldn’t get her out of his mind. That date with Seth, wondering how she might react on Sunday…

“She must not think my personality is terrible,” Liam said, “or we wouldn’t be friends.”

Maya thought he was a decent person, and she didn’t find him a complete bore…but that wasn’t enough. Love was an awful lot more than that, and he didn’t know if she could love him.

But he would find out soon.

“Let’s talk about sports,” he said, “since we’re at a sports bar. Like, the basketball game on the screen right in front of us.”

“You mean the hockey game?”

“Yeah. The hockey game. Whatever. Sports of some kind.”

Gavin went on a long rant about the Leafs. Liam caught a few words here and there, and he was just starting to make out a few sentences when his phone beeped.

His pulse sped up as he pulled out his phone. Maybe it was Maya, telling him that her date had been terrible and she was at his apartment.

But the text message was from another friend. He stared at his phone, disappointed.

“Hey.” Gavin pulled the phone out of his hands. “You’re supposed to at least pretend to be interested in what I’m saying. Maybe nod every now and then.” He slid Liam’s phone into his pocket. “I’ll give it back once you make five intelligent comments about hockey. You know, something better than mistaking it for
basketball
.”

“We were looking at different screens. There are so many.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’m sure that’s what happened.” Gavin punched his shoulder. “Look at you, mooning over a woman.” He paused. “You know I think she’s an idiot if she turns you down, right?”

Liam smiled at his beer. “Thanks.”

Chapter 10

Friday after work, Maya selected a sweater that graded from light blue at the top to dark blue at the bottom. She thought it made her look like she had a more ample chest than she actually did.

She arrived at the restaurant—not South Plate this time—at precisely seven o’clock, hoping Seth wouldn’t have Tyler’s punctuality problems. He better not. And he better not have quit his job as an engineer to make art out of discarded calculus textbooks. Or sell pot out of his basement. But she didn’t expect that would be a problem, not with a guy Kristy had found for her.

When she stepped inside, she realized she had no idea what Seth looked like.

Shit
. Well, the reservation was under his name. She could ask the hostess.

Before doing that, she scanned the restaurant, looking for any men seated alone, about thirty-five years old. There was one by the window. He smiled and waved her over.

“Kristy showed me a picture of you,” he said when she approached the table. “Though you’re even prettier in person.”

She was still wearing her winter jacket. Perhaps he was just saying that to be nice, and it
was
a little cheesy…but it still pleased her.

“I’m Seth.” He stuck out his hand. “Nice to meet you.”

“Maya,” she said, though of course they already knew each other’s names.

He had a nice firm handshake. But he shaved his head, and that wasn’t a look she particularly liked. He had kind eyes, though, a nice nose…

Okay, she was getting pretty desperate if she was thinking about his
nose
, which wasn’t a feature she usually paid much attention to.

The truth was, she didn’t find Seth attractive. Not that he was bad-looking. He just didn’t do anything for her. All she wanted a decent guy who made her heart kick up a notch when she saw him. Was that too much to ask?

Well, she would give Seth a chance. Maybe after she got to know him, he
would
make her heart race. A woman could hope.

On the phone earlier in the week, he’d suggested two restaurants. The one Maya had chosen was an Indian restaurant. Maroon tablecloths, a single rose in the center of the table. The place was half full, and two servers—young men in crisp white shirts—moved briskly between tables.

BOOK: Not Just a Friend
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