“Ijust can’t believe he won’t let me back into the house to get my stuff,” I huffed as I took a long sip of my Long Island iced tea. I ignored the other patrons of Shooters as I relaxed with my drink. There weren’t many people at the local bar, but there were a few groups like ours, mostly locals, gathered together after a long work day.
“Whoa there, babe, you might want to slow down,” Bailey warned me as she sat sipping a Coke. I rolled my eyes at the mother hen of our group, but I did take a small sip of the water that was next to me so she wouldn’t actually pull my much-needed drink from my hands. It had happened before, and I’d never live down what I’d done before she’d stolen away my bottle of fireball last spring. I think Carter and Beck still had a video of the entire incident.
“It’s because he’s a fucking asshole, Hollis.” Audrey lifted a brow at me. “I don’t even see how you put up with him as long as you did.”
I leaned back in my seat, shifting slightly to get more comfortable on the wooden barstool, and looked at her. “Because his dick game was on point, Drey. Like... I swear I was having “multiple seizures when I came” level of dick game.”
“Why do guys with that kind of skill have to all be douche canoes?” Delaney clinked my glass.
“I’m hardly a… How did you eloquently put it? Douche canoe?” Vance said, raising an eyebrow in challenge. Lanie grinned and kissed him, the small gesture making him smile before leaning down to kiss her more thoroughly.
“There are always exceptions, right?”
“Regardless...” I gave my friends pointed looks before finishing off the last of my large drink. “I want my shit back.”
“What trouble are you planning over here, Sugar Squad?” a deep voice asked from behind me, before Bailey could voice the concern I saw filling her face at my words.
“Grant!” Bailey yelled out in excitement, and I turned to find her older brother standing there with his signature smirk as he looked us over. Suddenly, he stumbled back a step or two as Bailey tackled him in a fierce hug.
“Careful, I’ve already been back a few weeks. No need for the exuberant greeting every time. I’m not enlisted anymore.” He laughed at his sister but gave her a hug back at the same time. Audrey and Delaney each called out their own greetings, and I grinned slowly as I looked him over, knowing he would be just the person I needed to join me in the idea that was forming in my more than slightly buzzed mind. After one more quick squeeze that nearly had Bailey squeaking, Grant pulled away from his sister, and when he saw my expression, he shook his head. “I know that look. It’s trouble. The answer is no.”
I made a wide-eyed innocent face at him and blinked slowly. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“That,” he emphasized, pointing at me before slowly backing away. “How much have you had to drink?”
I gave up my ruse in annoyance at his question and lifted the empty cup. “Just one!”
“A Long Island,” Bailey added on. Traitor. I sent her a mock glare that she met with one of her own. Eyebrows raised, head tilted, and crossed arms, her “I mean business” look.
“I think I’m going to get another drink.” I stood up. “If I’m going to do this, then I’m going to have fun while I’m at it.”
“I’m walking away now. Then I won’t have to lie about knowing anything when the cops come by tomorrow.” Grant held up his hands and walked to where I saw a group of his old buddies from high school waiting at a table on the other side of the bar by the dartboard. As they all greeted each other with the typical half-hug and back slap, I rolled my eyes. Grant could be such a stick in the mud. I guess the military didn’t change that.
Walking over to the bar, I ordered a round of shots for the table, telling Henderson, one of Bailey’s dads, to surprise us with any kind. With a laugh, he set up a tray and started to craft them. As he got to work, we chatted, small town talk about the weather, his husband Brian, and business. The bar wasn’t as busy as it used to be, but I loved this place. Maybe it wasn’t fancy like some of the nightlife in the city, but the wooden bar, tables, and chairs matched the dark red brick wall that sported a newly updated television playing a football game in high-def. The Sugar Bush Sugar Gliders were represented all over with the mint and bright pink colors of our high school on shirts, flags, and foam fingers. Gotta love that small town pride.
“Here you go, young lady!” Henderson called to catch my wandering attention, pushing the tray of shots in my direction. The array of shot glasses were all different colors, and the sight of them made me smile, excited for a good time tonight.
“Add it to my tab!” I told him firmly, but the laugh in his eyes told me that he would be doing no such thing. I narrowed my eyes at him and dug out some cash, a few twenties, and stuck it in the tip jar while I held his stare. He reached for the jar, intent on giving it back, but I waved his hand away. “Don’t you dare, Pops.”
“Family discount,” he retorted firmly. I was wracking my brain, trying to think of something to distract him, when I saw Grant on the other end of the bar.
“Pops, did you see Grant came in?”
“Where?” His eyes lit up with pride when I pointed him out, and he quickly walked over to say hello to his son, forgetting about the money I had put in the jar. Grabbing the tray, I sauntered back to the table. Audrey and Delaney saw me first, both giving me wide grins once they realized what I was carrying. Bailey turned around at their expressions, her eyes going wide at the sight.
Not letting her say anything, I swiftly put the tray down and ordered, “Drink up, bitches and Vance! This is my pity party, and I demand alcohol before we get to the stupid shit,” I announced with a flourish, then clapped my hands firmly.
We each grabbed a shot, and I put one in front of Bailey with a firm look when she just grabbed her water. She threw up her hands in resignation and took the small glass, lifting it along with us in a cheers.
“To dicks that will fuck up your pussy, but not your head and heart!” Audrey called out, and I laughed as I saw a ton of heads in the bar, including Grant’s, whip around to stare at us.
“Here, here!” I agreed and threw back my shot, letting the delicious alcohol go down smoothly.
Bailey, Delaney, and Vance each grabbed sodas as a chaser while Drey and I grabbed another shot glass for everyone. That’s when the night started to blur a bit. Drinks kept flowing, and after the music was turned up, I started dancing, not caring I was the only one at first. Though, to be honest, I was never embarrassed to dance, no matter where I was. I’d been dancing since I was a kid, and I knew how to move. When Lizzo started playing over the speakers, a wide grin filled my flushed face. “Oh my god, this is my shit.”
“She is totally going to dance on the bar,” I distantly heard Delaney comment, and I was immediately filled with amusement. That’s a great fucking idea! I started to make my way to the bar, weaving through the crowd of people despite the groans following behind me, but a lean body suddenly entered my path, stopping me. I looked up and blinked at Grant, surprised to find him looking down at me. His dirty blond hair was slicked back, and now that he had his jacket off, I could see new black ink on his neck and hands. Damn, when did he get that done? Concerned sky blue eyes studied me as he gripped my waist to keep me from moving away.
“Hollis, you doing okay?”
Nope. Not, tonight.I’m done talking about how I feel about douche canoe. And I especially wasn’t talking about him to Grant of all people. He’d been one of my childhood crushes since before I was old enough to like, like guys, and he didn’t need to know anything about my dating history.
I cringed as I saw humor spark in Grant’s face as he continued to scrutinize me, though I thought I saw surprise there for a moment before it was gone. Probably just the damn liquor playing with my mind. Why would he look... Oh shit. If only alcohol hadn’t gotten rid of the filter I so desperately needed at that moment instead of letting my private and definitely embarrassing thoughts come flying out of my mouth.
“Holls, why don’t we get you home?” His voice was soft as he turned me away from the bartop performance I was about to put on.
“Well, that would put a damper on the rest of tonight’s plans,” I replied saucily, but I let him lead me back toward the table where everyone else was sitting. At our approach, Delaney looked up from her phone, surprised, then amused, by my escort.
“Are you being sent home?” Delaney teased, and before Grant could say anything, I gave her a huge smile.
“I think that’s a great idea. I just have one stop I need to make first.”
“Oh no,” Bailey muttered as Audrey grabbed her stuff, already following along with my thoughts.
“Where are we going?” Delaney glanced around the table as even Bailey stood up, resigned to my constant shenanigans.
I reached up behind me and patted Grant’s face until I could put my hands over his ears since he’d probably want plausible deniability. “Just some breaking and entering to get my stuff back. He has my favorite hoodie! I want it back.”
“We’re going to commit a felony to get a hoodie back?” Bailey asked right as I dropped my hands from Grant’s head. He let out a groan at his sister’s question.
“It’s the principle of it! Besides, I have a bunch of stuff there. Haven’t you ever lost something during a breakup that you wanted back? How about that Nuggets hat you lost after the breakup with Chris?”
Her shoulders drooped at the reminder as she brushed a stray lock of bright red hair that fell over her eyes. A pang hit me as I realized that my statement was more of a barb. Bailey’s break up with him hadn’t been the easiest, even if it had happened back right after high school. Of course, he was also the last person she dated before my brother Bryson, but that is a subject best never brought up in front of Bay. “Fine. But if I get taken in, you’re paying back my bail money.”
I shrugged. “Deal!”
“That’s it? Deal? You don’t even know how much bail money would be,” Grant protested, sounding confused.
I glanced over my shoulder at him, attempting a saucy wink that turned into an awkward, comically slow blink because of copious amounts of alcohol. Great… that was sexy, Hollis. “I have a savings account set aside for bail money.”
“Specifically for bail money?” Delaney asked curiously, and I nodded as I grabbed my bag from the back of the chair I had previously been sitting in. The fact that she didn’t even look surprised was a testament to our friendship… or my personality. I couldn’t decide which.
“I mean, I’ve used the funds there enough times to help myself and other people out. It’s not my fault most people are stupid as fuck.”
“That’s the fucking truth,” Drey muttered under her breath. “I’ll just make a call and let my guys know I’m going to be late and to keep a checkbook handy for later.”
“Perfect!” I grinned and started to dance my way out of the bar. I motioned for Del and Drey to join me as I did the conga on my way out, which they laughingly refused to do.
“Shit,” Bailey and Grant spoke at the same time. I didn’t hear anything else they said as I threw open the bar doors and stepped out into the brisk September air. Thank goodness fall was finally settling in. I loved summer as much as the next person, but under-boob sweat and humidity are not curvy girl-friendly.
I twirled as a cool breeze blew through, stopping when I saw my friends and Grant just standing there. My attention honed in on the outlier before I asked, “You’re coming with? I thought you didn’t want to get involved?”
“That’s before I knew your crazy self was going to try to break into someone’s house.” He shook his head as he walked toward me and wrapped an arm around my waist, leading me to his truck, the others all going with Bailey to her car. I gave him a confused look, resisting the drunken voice in my head that insisted I snuggle into him like a cozy blanket.
“Why aren’t we going with them?”
“Because, darling,” he said teasingly with an amused look and a grin, “there isn’t enough room for everyone in her car since Vance is coming along for this adventure too.”
“And I’m going with you and not her because...” I stopped at the passenger side door and watched him approach me, my stomach full of either butterflies or alcohol. I was too buzzed to tell the difference. When I realized he was about to offer to help me into the truck, I waved off his help. In a great show of wisdom, he held up his hands in surrender before walking to the driver’s side.
“Because no way am I letting you off the hook for what you said earlier.” He opened his door and climbed into the lifted truck, my pulse racing at his response. I flicked my gaze to Bailey’s car at that, trying to determine if I could run there. I mean, realistically, speed walk. Maybe. But she pulled out at just that moment, and I heard Grant laugh as the passenger side door opened. “Get your butt inside, Hollis.”
“You’re an ass,” I threw at him, but I grabbed hold of the handle on the side of the door and used the side step to climb my way into his truck. He held out a hand to help me, but I brushed off the offer a second time and pulled myself up. “Fuck, why do guys always need to have jacked up trucks? Isn’t the regular tall enough?”
“I did offer to help you up,” he pointed out, another smirk almost making an appearance, but he turned before it could fully come out.
“Your skinny ass would not have been able to lift all of this,” I sassed back as I ran a hand over my curves. I didn’t miss the way his eyes followed the motion before turning back as he pulled out onto the road.
“Do I need to remind you I was in the military? I’m thirty-five, not ancient. Now, where the hell is this ex of yours?”
I crinkled my nose, just the reminder of my douche canoe ex killing off a tiny bit of my buzz from the shots, “Over on Sugarplum Lane. It’s the white house with the big tree out front.” Rolling down the window, I sighed at the cool air hitting my face. Grant drove us out of downtown Sugar Bush, if you could call our small Main Street a downtown. The country air was filled with the scents of bonfires and cut grass as we went down the quiet two-lane road toward where Dillon lived.
“Don’t tell me you were dating Dillon?!” I rolled my eyes, which he couldn’t see, but he must have read my body language because he muttered some not so nice things before he shot me a stern look. “He’s always been a jerk. Why the hell would you date him?”
The alcohol warming my body made me a little bolder with Grant than I usually would be as I looked over at him with an arched eyebrow. “Because, unlike most men, he at least knew how to use his dick and could find a clit, so, I mean... I put up with a lot since I was getting what I wanted from him.”
I saw his hands tighten on the steering wheel briefly before they slowly unclenched. What’s got him so upset? “Which was just sex?”
“Don’t tell me you’re some kind of prude that thinks women shouldn’t have fun? Look, relationships and happily ever afters are great for some people. But it’s never been in the cards for me.” I shrugged and focused my gaze out the window, not wanting the serious topic to ruin the buzz I still had going. Now, to settle on a nice, safe topic. Dillon is definitely off the list, and let’s just forget about admitting you had a crush on him while we’re at it.
A moment passed, and I should’ve been grateful for the silence, but I’d never been the type to make smart choices. Unfortunately, I couldn’t leave well enough alone and ventured, “So I thought you were going to make fun of me for what I said before?”
After a few more moments without a response, I saw Grant throw a look my way out of the corner of my eye. “Why would I make fun of you?”
I swallowed hard, the crisp air finally sobering me up a little bit. “For saying I liked you when I was younger.”
“Darling, I don’t know where Miss Confident went, but when a beautiful woman says she has a crush on you, that’s a compliment.” The familiar nickname sounded different tonight; there seemed to be an edge of heat in it. He paused as he flicked his turn signal, waiting until he could turn down Sugarplum. “And what do you mean ‘liked’? As in past tense?”
I let out a laugh as I felt my cheeks flush more from his compliment, hoping like hell I could pass it off as an effect of the alcohol. “Well, I grew up, and you’ve been gone for years. I can’t imagine being in the military didn’t change you.” He didn’t say anything at that, though I saw his face tighten momentarily. “Besides, it’s not like you ever even noticed me, so it doesn’t matter.”
Things became silent once more, though not the uncomfortable kind, while he drove the last mile to Dillon’s house. As he parked the truck, I could see Bailey’s car already there, the squad and Vance starting to get out when they saw us pull in. I went to open the door to jump out, but a firm hand on my shoulder stopped me, its warmth easily searing through my shirt. I looked over my shoulder in question. When he had my attention, Grant let go of my shoulder and gave me a serious look. “I’ve always noticed you, Hollis.”
With that, he got out of the truck and slammed the door on my shocked face. What the actual fuck? Why do people just say shit like that and walk away like it’s nothing? Shit like that is why people made vibrators, less mind games and guaranteed to get you off every time.