Jace peered through the dimly lit, crowded room in Chica Ríos, a hip new bar in Belltown, a trendy area just north of downtown Seattle.
I need to get laid.
Indecipherable music blared through the speakers, creating a solid screen of conversation defying noise.
How long has it been? Two weeks? Nothing since trouble arrived.
The bar’s décor consisted of gold fabric, dark woods, glistening copper and bronze tiles. Lamp shades were held aloft over tiny tables by pale yellow-haired antelope legs, complete with lacquered hooves. Whoever thought using animal parts a good idea had their head up their ass, as far as Jace was concerned - he found it macabre.
Mirrors hung everywhere, allowing the vain to see how cool they looked, the inebriated to wonder, “Is this what I look like when I’m hammered?” and the jealous to keep tabs on their boyfriend, girlfriend or ex from across the room -- the same way he’d kept an eye on Kate. He shook his head to clear it. Old news.
Images of beautiful women dotted the walls here and there.
I’ve probably already done her, he thought with a chuckle, in reference to recent attempts to purge his ex out of his system, as he studied one of the photographs of a voluptuous redhead.
He squinted through the crowd at the woman his buddy, Billy O’Reilly, pointed at. He ran a hand through his thick brown hair, and sighed. “Yeah, I see her. What about her?” he shouted across the table.
“How’d you like to take a ride with her?” Billy let out a snort and a derisive laugh.
Jace shook his head at his drinking buddy and tossed back his rum and coke. “Might not be so bad. She’s probably really nice.” At this point, I’ll take anything. How long has it been? He circled around his inner timeline again. Fuck. Two weeks. Ever since…
“Nice?” Billy hooted. “She’s a dog, Jace. Homely as a cow. Pillowcase material.”
“Jesus, Billy.” Jace tipped his head to the side, scrutinizing the woman. “Quit being a dick. No, she’s not.”
“Look,” Billy said. “I told you, I’m doing you a solid. I’m making it my mission to get you a girlfriend. A real girlfriend. A girlfriend who looks good on the outside and loves to fuck.”
“Is that your criteria for success?”
“What else is there?” Billy reached for his pale amber beer and poured some down his throat. “We have to get you over Kate Bethlehem so you’ll be fun again.”
“I’ve been working on it.” Jace’s stomach tightened at the mention of his ex. He picked up his glass and swirled the remaining droplets around and around. That’s what his insides felt when he thought of her. That shit’s over. It’s been months. I’m fine. His lower logic took over. I need to get laid. How long has it been? Oh, right. Weeks.
“We miss you on the yacht.”
Jace groaned. I need another drink.
A group of barely twenty-somethings, the noisiest in the bar, made their way toward the front like a herd of drunken sheep. They stumbled outside to smoke, leaving an empty pocket of stillness in the middle of the room.
“Where’s your girlfriend, by the way?” Jace’s voice sounded hoarse now that he could hear himself. “You said she was joining us.”
“Jasmine? She’s around here somewhere.” Billy waved a hand in the air before finishing his beer.
As if conjured, a gorgeous, raven haired beauty slipped in beside Billy, pressing her ample cleavage close to the man’s arm. She looked across the table at Jace and said, “Hey, handsome. When you going to let me lay my hands on your luxurious wavy hair and that scrumptious muscular build…mm mm mm. I’d like to get my fingers on some of that.”
Expecting fangs to poke out of her gums, he smiled politely, signaling the waitress for another drink. I’m not that desperate.
“And your emerald eyes are to die for. You could kill with those eyes.”
“Wouldn’t that be a plus?” Jace muttered. What a whore. He knew she was merely another conquest for Billy. He gave them two weeks, tops.
“That’s what I’ve been saying to him, Jazz,” Billy said. “It’s my mission to hook him up again. He’s in a dry spell. Staying at home all the time lately. Probably pouting a lot. He’s got some sort of secret.”
“Fuck you,” Jace said.
Billy smirked, winking with his cold blue gray eyes. “Got any available friends?”
“I told you,” she said to Jace, “I’ll take you out for a whirl.”
“Like hell you will,” Billy growled at her. “I’m not done with you.”
She laughed, leaned in close and whispered in Billy’s ear.
His eyebrows launched sky high as he listened. “Uh, be back in a few,” Billy said, pushing Jasmine out of the booth.
Jace watched them disappear into the back of the bar, Jasmine tugging the back of her extremely short skirt, no doubt heading for the women’s room. He pulled his phone free of his pocket and stared at the screen. Nothing. Well, no news is good news, right? He tapped the Check Messages icon and listened.
“Hey, Jace,” a female voice said. “Haven’t seen you in a few we…”
“Jace! Where you been? Want to party?”
“Jace Savage, my kitty cat’s getting…”
Delete. Fuck. He slipped the phone back in his shirt with a sigh, raking his hand through his hair again, thinking about the troubles he’d left at home. Shit. My life is fucked up. How am I going to bring a girl to my house?
A few minutes later his drink arrived, carried by a pretty woman with long brown hair pulled back in a ponytail. She fished a paper coaster embellished with the name Chica Ríos from her black apron pocket, positioned it on the gleaming wood, and looked at him. “Are you okay? Looks like you’ve had a few.”
“I’m fine,” he said, wiping his face with his palm. Am I okay? Maybe a little buzzed. I’ve only had a couple drinks. “Having the time of my life.” His eyes slid to her full breasts.
“Could’ve fooled me.” She lifted the rum and coke off the tray, and placed the drink on the napkin with practiced hands. “Shall I add this to your tab?”
“No, this is the last one,” Jace said. “I live a ways away. Got to keep my wits about me for a change,” he said, sarcastically. “Bring me the check.”
“Okay, I’ll get your bill.” The waitress lingered at the booth. “Are you sure you’re okay? Need me to call a cab?”
“I’m fine,” he said again, blinking, trying to clear his head. What a vocabulary. That will impress her. He let out a short laugh at his stupidity.
She lifted one dark brown eyebrow along her silky smooth forehead and pressed her kissable lips together.
“It’s not the drink, it’s the…” Lust. I really need to get laid.
“Of course not.” She eyed him disapprovingly, her lips pursed.
This is not what I’m going for. I’d rather those lips were parted, eager to get around my…. “Haven’t seen you here tonight - we’ve been here a while.” Jace cocked his head and studied her. His smaller, more persistent head began to rally and cheer. He reached under the table to surreptitiously make room in his jeans.
“I see that,” she said, indicating the empty glasses on the table.
“Those aren’t…” His lips clamped shut. Shit, why am I defending myself to this girl?
“Shift just started. And, I’m late. Something came up at home,” she said dismissively, in answer to his question. “What’s your name, stud?”
“Jace. Jace Savage.”
“It’s derived from Middle English and Old French,” he said, reciting the info his mama had taught him. “It means wild and uncontrolled,” he teased. Is that a blush coloring her cheeks? He appreciated the way she looked - kind of farm girl fresh with attitude. Rosy cheeks, full lips, not a hint of make-up. A tiny tattoo of a small heart, almost like a beauty mark, dotted her left cheekbone. His eyes surreptitiously scanned her curvy body. Nice. I’d love to photograph her against an ocean backdrop, with a blazing sunset. Then I’d… He narrowed his eyes, picturing her naked, her dark brown hair splayed along the sand, gazing at him with her sexy chocolate eyes, a wave dancing at the edges of her toes before receding into the sea. Inclining his head to the side, he allowed a slight smile to form, imagining him, eye at the camera, finger over the shutter, standing over her beautiful body….Click, click, click, he thought, taking imaginary pictures.
She snapped her fingers in front of his face. “I said, I’m Marine. Marine Dubois.” She shook her head at him.
“What? Marine?” He pulled himself up in the booth. Shit.
“It’s French - a French name.” She waved her hand, as if brushing the name away.
Again with the blush. Very attractive. I could definitely…. “Well, I work in marine environments so…” He extended his hand to her, flashing his winning, “yes, I want to fuck you,” smile. “It’s a pleasure, Marine.”
“The pleasure’s all mine, I assure you,” she said in a pleasant voice. “We get our fair share of assholes in here. You seem like a somewhat decent guy, even if you are a bit buzzed.”
Jace winced. “I’ve had my share of trouble. And it’s not the…”
She cut him off. “All I said was decent.” Her brown eyes danced. “I didn’t think for a moment you were dull.”
He relaxed into the booth, stretching out his long legs. He liked this girl...a lot.
Marine pointed at his arm. “Interesting ink you’ve got. What is that?”
Jace glanced at the tattoo poking out underneath his half-rolled up sleeve. He self-consciously tugged on the white linen, trying to pull it over the image of teeth biting a steel blade covering his forearm. “That’s some of the trouble,” he said, smiling in an attempt to distract her from this line of questioning.
Marine reached down and pushed the sleeve up. She frowned slightly as she studied the tattoo. “Not much blood,” she said, fingering the three red drops that dripped from the knife edge. “Deep but survivable,” she said. “Sharp blade. I’ll bet it was a clean wound. No jagged edges. Those are the worst.”
A clean wound? Leaving Kate and the chaos that came with her was like endless stabs to the heart with an unsharpened butcher’s knife.He nodded, surprised to be so affected by this woman’s touch. It’d been a while since he had a real girlfriend. Not since…And her eyes…warm, chestnut beauties, looking deeply into his, revealing…what? Interest? The kind of compassion you reserve for stray dogs? He pulled his arm away.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Jace. I was being inquisitive. I get that way sometimes. Forgive me.”
“Nothing to forgive. It’s a part of my past, is all.” He smiled at her wanting her to know she’d done nothing wrong. I’d definitely like to take her to my…He gave a slight shake of his head. Maybe we could go to her place. He glanced up to see Jasmine and Billy walking unsteadily across the room, eyes a bit wild, their hair mussed. Billy’s expensive shirt was buttoned all wrong. Jace made a note to not say anything - kind of dick around with his buddy’s vanity. Billy liked to look good - appearances mattered. He dressed in top dollar attire, even got his dirty blond hair highlighted, for fucks sake, thinking himself to be a much younger version of Sir Richard Branson. He’d shit a brick when he found out he skipped a button.
Marine looked up to see what Jace saw and froze. “Billy,” she said, when they got near the table.
“Uh, Susan, right?” Billy said.
“Marine,” she said coldly. She gave Jace a disgusted look. “He’s your friend?”
Jace squinted at her, his brain a blur. “Him?”
“Yeah, stud. The guy about to get in the booth with you.”
“Nah, we work together.”
She turned to Billy.
He grinned at her. “That’s me. A working stiff.”
She turned to Jace. “I’ll get your tab,” and crisply walked away.
“Wait a minute,” Billy said. “I’d like to place an order.” He gave Jasmine a small shove into the booth and settled next to her.
Marine returned and stood rigidly at the table.
Jace eyed her, eyed Billy, back to Marine. “You know him?”
“We’ve met.” Her lips formed a crisp line.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
“Me, too,” she replied, her pretty face stony. “What can I get you?”
“Hold up a sec.” Billy gestured to someone across the room. “We have another joining us.”
A short, lithe blond woman staggered unevenly across the floor. The walk looked practiced, meant to magnetize all eyes in her direction. She seemed to have downed a few, though, making Jace smirk.
When she stood at the low-backed booth, her eyes widened at Jace. “Well, hello. You didn’t say he’d be this handsome.” She slid in next to Jace, uninvited. “I’m Simone.”
“Meet your new girlfriend,” Billy said. “We met her in the back.”
“When you finally emerged from the ladies room,” the woman said in a sultry voice. “Looking very pleased with yourselves.” She dabbed at her glossy pink lips. “Just like we will soon.” She turned her gaze toward Jace.
Her sour, boozy breath reached his nose, making him recoil.
Marine’s face assumed the countenance of a soldier. “Your order?”
“Another beer for me, a dirty martini for my girlfriend, another rum and coke for my buddy…”
“I’m good,” Jace said, holding his palm over his full glass.
“Another rum and coke for my boy,” Billy said, cutting him off, “And Simone?”
“I’ll have what he’s having,” she said, scooting closer to Jace.
He tried to push away, but since he sat on the inside, there was nowhere he could go.
Simone placed her hand on his thigh and began stroking.
His body began to respond as her unwelcome, sharp fingernails dug into his jeans. Shit. He plucked her hand from his leg and placed it in her lap.
She wriggled her skirt up, grabbed his hand, and placed it in the hot crevice between her legs.
His cock continued to harden and beg for attention, diverting his attention away from Marine. Fuck. He yanked his hand free and placed both palms on the table. “I don’t want another drink, Billy.” He looked up to say something to Marine but she’d already disappeared. “How do you know Marine?”
“I don’t know that I actually know her. She seems familiar. Probably on the back burner.”
“One of your back burner babes?” Jace said, his jaw tightening.
“Probably. I don’t know.”
“I’m not going to be a back burner babe, am I?” Jasmine asked hotly. “This is the real deal, right?”
Billy ignored her, flipping his highlighted hair away from his icy blue eyes. “Maybe we bought parts from her for the yacht we’re working on.”
“Oooh, you boys own a yacht?” Simone cooed. She placed her hand on Jace’s thigh again, her fingers dancing along his erection.
His breathing quickened. So tempting. He glanced toward Marine, removed Simone’s hand and put it in her lap once more. She smelled of too much perfume, a touch of weed, and not enough reality. “I don’t. Billy does. I work on them when I’m not on assignment.”
“I do, too,” Billy said defensively. “I work on yachts.”
“Right,” Jace agreed. “You sound like a two year old, dipshit. You don’t have to work. I do.”
Billy scowled and turned his head. “Where’s that damn waitress with our drinks?”
“What kind of assignment?” Simone asked.
“Photography. I’m a nature photographer. Nat Geo and some of the others give me a call from time to time.”
“Seriously?” Simone’s tone changed like she’d just scored some bank, big time.
“After we leave,” Billy said, moving the conversation along, “I suggest we head for my pop’s place. He’s got a high rise apartment overlooking the water. It’s stocked for playtime, guaranteed.”
“You and your fucking father,” Jace said, shaking his head. “You’re a couple of man-whores.”
“You should talk,” Billy said.
“Sounds divine,” Simone slurred.
“I don’t think so,” Jace said. “I have responsibilities.” He blinked, trying to remember what they were. A beautiful face floated through his fuzzed out brain. Right. He sighed.
“Come on, let go a little,” Simone said. “You look like you could use some fun. I know I could.”
“Yeah, come on, Jacie-poo,” cooed Jasmine.
Jace stared at her, his forehead creased. Jacie-poo?
For the next several minutes, Jace sat awkwardly at the table, searching for Marine. Come on, baby, eyes over here. Billy, Simone and Jasmine were saying something but he wasn’t clocking it at all. Look at me.
Marine stalked over with their drinks, interrupting them. “Here you go, Mr. O’Reilly.” She slid his beer in front of him. “Sir,” she said curtly, setting down Jace’s rum and coke with a thwack. She gave it a shove in his direction.
He caught it before it collided with the salt shaker, wishing he would have taken her up on the cab offer - as long as she got in it with him. It had been so long all he’d need was a few blocks worth of cab time.
“Ladies,” she said, following suit with their drinks.
Jace tried to make eye contact with her without success. Shit. His lower mind was about to have a tantrum.
She stared dead-eyed at the table, saying to no-one in particular, “Will there be anything else?”
“Nah, babe, that’s fine. We’ll let you know,” Billy said without looking at her.
She whirled and stomped away.
“You can be such a douche-bag,” Jace said.
“Let’s drink these and get out of here,” Billy said.
“I said, no thanks,” Jace repeated.
“Come on,” the females insisted again.
His phone vibrated in his pocket. He fished it free, looked at the screen, his eyes widening, a giant sigh leaving his lungs. “And here’s my answer - again.” He held it up for all to see. The word Emergency glared from the device. He turned it back toward him, reading the next message. Nothing works. She’s hysterical. Help! He shoved it back in his shirt before guiding Simone out of the booth so he could escape. He flipped a few bills on the tablescanning the bar for Marine, hoping to at least apologize for his dipshit friend. Not able to find her, he quickly raced toward the exit to find his bike - a Deus Grievous Angel motorcycle - his pride and $24k joy, bought after a particularly lucrative photography assignment - so he could get the hell out of here.
“Hope everything’s okay,” Jasmine said, lifting her hand to wave goodbye.
He bolted from the bar, raced across the street in the misty, chilly air to his ride.
“I’ll take a rain check, lover,” Simone called from the doorway of Chica Ríos as he strapped on his helmet. “I’d love to go riding with you sometime!”
“Not gonna happen,” he muttered. He lifted his head to see Marine staring at him through the front window, wiping down a table. She’s another matter altogether. She’s the kind of gal I’d love to take for a good, long ride. His brain whirled with schemes, wondering how he could bed her, hoping he could follow through with his wickedly lusty plans and keep her separate from his life. No woman in her right mind would touch him if she knew the trouble he had at home. Lately, difficulty seemed to follow him like a junkie seeking her next fix. How am I ever going to get laid?
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