Their heartbreaking past will move you. Their passion will make you blush. Their antics will make you laugh out loud.
Twenty-five-year-old Natalie Davenport lugs substantial baggage. One boyfriend after the next has been a total disaster, leaving Natalie distrustful toward the male population in general. So when Colin Hampton crosses her path, she’s cautious. Her heart (and some other body parts!) nudges her to go for it, while her head wants her to run for the hills.
Colin is one of those gorgeous guys who attract women, no matter the age or marital status. With a successful career at a popular Seattle radio station, hard body, and charming personality, he is the complete package. But something dark lurks in the corners of his soul; some murky experience that has changed him—maybe for the better, but maybe for the worse.
Or will they settle somewhere in the middle—establishing the emotional boundaries to protect them from falling in love?
When Colin’s feisty great grandma Helga mysteriously disappears, Natalie and the gun-toting Svetlana rush to the rescue. With the help of Russian mafia goons and Natalie’s girlfriends, they get more than they bargained for. Natalie invites trouble into her life all over again. She could find herself questioned by the police, or worse, her relationship with Colin could become rickety once more.
And so the race begins: with grandma Helga on the loose, Colin turns to the police for help, and Natalie is a stiletto heel tip outside of the law. But being in the wrong has never felt so vindicated.
“Coffee and love taste best when hot.”
My head is crammed with thoughts about Ali, her guys, Colin, my past, and all in between. I don’t even realize when I take my exit from the freeway and maneuver my Dodge Caliber into my parking spot.
After a quick shower, I dress, do my makeup and hair, and call a taxi. The Motto Bar and Grill isn’t far from my apartment, so it takes only about ten minutes to get there.
I walk in, look around, and proceed to sit at the bar. The place is totally cool, and yes—there is the motto Colin mentioned: in the shimmery-black block letters plastered onto the wall right over the bar area, a foot or so below the ceiling. Speaking of that ceiling—it perfectly fits with the rest of the décor—beefy, unfinished logs run overhead, and rustic objects hang down from it: old copper pitchers, a few empty picture frames, a large chicken-wire basket, and two tiny, beat-up stools made of wood painted in white, the paint peeling off in places.
I lean over the sleek slab of wood that serves as the bar and signal the bartender. He frowns at me, murmurs something in response, and turns his back to me. O-kay, not a big deal, maybe he’s having a bad day. Or maybe he is a grumpy dickhead every waking minute of his life. I take my cell phone out and check for emails and texts. There is a text from Jena. She’s wondering if we could get together. Any other night I would say ‘yes’, but not tonight.
I’m busy, typing the response to Jena and I don’t pay attention to what’s happening around me. But, apparently, The Grumpy Dickhead stands in front of me, buffing a tall beer glass, his mouth set in a grim line.
“So what’s it gonna be?” he barks.
He startles me, and so I jump, dropping my phone onto the bar. Fuck. My heart wedges itself semi-permanently into the bottom of my throat. The Grumpy Dickhead continues to stare as if I killed his first-born. If his first-born is as nasty as him, he probably deserves to die. No, I honestly didn’t just think that.
“Uhm… appletini please,” I choke out.
He grunts something and turns to mix my drink. I decide to watch him. You never know. Maybe his other job is delivering mail. He seems on the verge of going postal. I stretch my neck to monitor what exactly goes into my drink. And then I feel a pat on my shoulder and I jump again. Geez! What the hell? Am I destined for a heart attack today?
But it’s Colin. His smile is nothing short of radiant. My heart does that little flip I know way too well. Steady, I tell myself. Steady, girl.
“Oh, it’s you,” I sigh in relief, forcing a genuine smile onto my face.
“You look nice,” Colin says, settling onto a stool next to mine. He doesn’t even realize he spooked me.
Her Majesty Vagina, Queen of Lust is squealing in delight. I don’t have even an ounce of control over her. How embarrassing.
“Thank you,” I murmur, horrified at the effect he already has on me. Because the tremors running over my body and the flutter of butterflies in my stomach are undoubtedly a response to Colin’s presence.
“Were you waiting long?” He glances at his watch. “I’m not late, am I?”
The Grumpy Dickhead slams my drink in front of me. The contents almost slosh, but I choose to ignore it. He takes Colin’s order and leaves.
“What are you drinking?” Colin asks.
“Appletini. I seem to always stick with appletinis. Unless I drink beer. Or sometimes red wine. Not so much white wine though. I guess, I don’t really care for white wine.” Why am I blabbering like a schoolgirl? It’s time to shut my mouth and dip it into my drink.
“It sounds like good stuff.” Colin lifts his eyebrows in appreciation. “I need to try it next time.”
“You can try mine now.” Whoa! Where did that come from? That wasn’t my mouth speaking. It was that other body part—the one that always gets so brainlessly excited and doesn’t care about consequences. Stupid vagina.
Colin wraps his long, slim fingers around the glass stem and unhurriedly lifts it to his mouth. He keeps his eyes on mine while taking a small sip. That’s way too sensual for me to remain calm. My hands start to shake and so do my thighs. I feel my mouth going dry. Dammit, Natalie. Keep it together.
He nods in appreciation. “It tastes great. Gentle but with a kick.”
“Yeah.” I laugh a bit too loud, but I have my fragile nerves to blame. Deep breath—yes, like that. One more. And again. Now close your eyes and say ‘Ohmmm’.
Am I nuts? My reactions to Colin are ridiculous. I’m not desperate for a boyfriend or even for a date, so what’s happening to me?
Colin seems perfectly content and I realize he hasn’t any clue about my peculiar inner battle. Instead, he smiles, looking at me and asks, “So, your company—how long since you’ve opened it?” He leans his elbow on the counter, watching me.
The Grumpy Dickhead brings Colin’s beer and gently—I swear, gently—places it in front of him.
“Ali and I did all the planning and research during college. So when we graduated, we had all the marketing in place, the bank loans secured, computer program running, and such. Our parents loaned some money too. Finally, we rented the office, and the clients started to pour in almost immediately. It’s been non-stop really.”
“That’s such an inimitable concept. Who came up with it?” Lord, those blue eyes aren’t leaving my face, sliding from my own eyes to my mouth and back. How a girl could possibly stay sane under such an intense analysis?
“I came up with the idea kind of randomly. I always get those junk emails from dating services—legit and not so. And it made me think—professionals who work long hours or travel a lot don’t have the time or inclination to look for dates. And it was also that old movie Ali and I watched, Pretty Woman. You know it?”
He laughs. “Yeah. It’s a fun movie. I like it.”
“Richard Gere plays that successful businessman and ends up with Julia Roberts’ character. I remember telling Ali that instead of settling down with a hooker he should have tried some matchmaking service for millionaires. And that’s how the idea started to grow.”
“And you’re still single? With all those successful young professionals around?” One corner of his mouth lifts in a tiny smile. Is he prying or is he making fun of me?
I slowly shake my head. “We do not get involved with the clients. It’s against the company’s policy.” There. That’s evasive enough.
“Would you like another?” He motions to my empty glass. Crap, I drained it way too fast.
“Uhm… maybe in a moment. I’m good,” I say.
Another drink would calm my nerves though. Why the hell is he making me unravel and melt inside like this? It feels as if he pulls on some invisible thread that connects straight to my heart. Well, and to that other body part which always starts trouble.
I begin to panic inside. Maybe Colin is yet another pretty, bad boy who will charm me into his bed with no intentions of anything past that. Haven’t I had enough with the continuous string of heartbreaks? Suddenly I’m not sure what to do. Maybe I should just get the hell out of here and stop making a fool out of myself. But the last thing I need is to act like a complete loony. Running out of the bar would be just that. So I keep my butt in the chair and try very hard to appear unperturbed.
Dammit, maybe I exaggerate. I bet you think that. What if he just wants to be friends? Yeah, like hell he does. Who am I kidding? No guy wants to be just friends. Unless it’s friends with benefits. Aha, here it is again—the idea Ali put in my head. I know why she suggested it to me. She’s well aware of all the screwed up assholes I somehow seemed to settle on in the last few years. There wasn’t one good guy there. Not even one! She had similar experiences, so her solution is to keep the boundaries, but not give up on fun. The result—a sex buddy. But would Colin be a good fit? No—that’s not the real question here. The real question is this: am I made of the right stuff to do it?
Either way, I don’t have to decide tonight. I have to calm down and just enjoy his company. After all, he isn’t doing anything wrong. It’s my hormones that decide to take the driver’s seat in his presence. And I can’t blame the suckers. Colin is great looking and seems to be totally easy-going and fun. Oh, hell.
“Earth to Natalie.” I hear Colin’s voice.
Crap, I spaced out while having a heated debate with myself.
“Oh, sorry.” I blush. “Maybe I will have another one of those.” I point to my empty glass.
He smiles that little sexy grin that makes me want to lean forward and kiss him. What? Where did that come from? I should feel embarrassed. Yeah, I should. But, of course, I don’t.
“And some ice water too,” I add quickly. Yeah, a large enough bucket of ice water so I can stick my whole head in it.
Colin orders for me. This time the Grumpy Dickhead has my drink ready in record time. I excuse myself and go to the bathroom, muttering under my nose about chauvinistic bartenders. On the wall next to the women’s bathroom is a huge framed dry erase board. Dozens of phrases are written on it in colorful markers, each in different handwriting. A small sign next to the frame states:
No Crap. No Contact Info. No Body Parts “Art”. Only Cool Quotes Allowed. Period.
Huh. I start to read. Some are hilarious, some deep, and the others… well, just meh.
‘You’re A Habit I’d Like To Kick, With Both Feet’
‘Beauty Is In the Eye Of The Beholder, And It May Be Necessary From Time To Time To Give A Stupid Or Misinformed Beholder A Black Eye! Miss Piggy’
I step back, take my cell phone out, and snap a picture which I promptly text to Ali, Jena, and Caroline. I look at the wall behind me, next to the men’s restroom, and see a twin framed board with tons of quotes on it. I send a photo of that one to my girlfriends too. I know they would especially appreciate this one:
‘Getting Married To Get Sex Is Like Buying A 747 To Get Free Peanuts. Jeff Foxworthy’
and a “matching one” on the women’s board:
‘Men Should Be Like Kleenex: Soft, Strong, And Disposable. Cher’
I chuckle to myself and shake my head. Caroline texts back, asking where I am. I tell her about my date with Colin. Ali and Jena text when I’m inside the bathroom, washing my hands. Why am I not surprised that each of them wishes me to score high. They are under the impression that I’ll get laid tonight.
I haven’t decided if I want to try out the sex buddy idea that Ali and Jena subscribe to, but even if, I wouldn’t have sex with Colin on the first date. Okay, so you may think I sound like a prude, but hey, a girl has to have some ground rules. My rule is to wait till date four. Yeah, I know, this is very old school of me. But it’s a brand new rule, and I need to test it. Well, he practically saw me half-naked the first time in the office, but I decide it doesn’t count.
“Did you see the quote boards by the bathrooms?” I ask Colin while climbing onto my barstool.
“Yeah, this place is famous for it. Some people take it very seriously. They search the internet and libraries for the best quotes to write there.” That sexy little smile is back.
“Listen, about our first encounter…” I start, tucking a loose stray of my hair behind my ear and biting my lower lip. What? Where did that come from? No, wait… this is good—I want to straight things up, but I wasn’t planning on starting that discussion now. My mouth, as usually, has the mind of her own.
Colin purses his lips, trying to suppress a bigger smile and waits for me to continue.
I roll my eyes. “Go ahead, laugh,” I say in disdainful exasperation.
And so he does, throwing his head back. I can’t help but grin and then join in with my own laughter. He not only puts me at ease, but he also looks sexy as heck.
“Okay, sorry.” He still chortles. “You have to admit, it was the best first encounter ever.”
“Not for me it wasn’t. It was humiliating.”
Colin tilts his head and looks at me from under half-closed lids. “You are gorgeous. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. But I get it—running into a stranger and only partially dressed in your office probably wasn’t making you feel great.”
“You’ve got that right.” I press my lips together. “Anyway…”
“Anyway, I dreamed about that bra you wore and what’s in it. More than once.” He smiles a little, watching me, his eyes sparkling.
My mouth drops open, and I can’t quite remember how to close it. When I finally figure out how to work my jaw muscles, he grins at me and puts the appletini glass in my hand. He raises his beer glass and says, “Come on, Natalie. You must have a better sense of humor than that.”
“If this was a sitcom, I would have dumped that drink into your lap.” I take a small sip.
“I bet you would, you devilishly-tempered woman.”
“Sure it is.” He shrugs. “You know… I have a feeling that you think I’m one of those scums that only want to get in your pants, and then walk away.”
“You don’t want to get in my pants?” I pretend to be astounded.
He looks at me for a very long silent moment, his lips gently curling up. He takes my hand in his and kisses my knuckles. He kisses my knuckles! “I want to get to know you, Natalie Davenport, before I allow myself to propose anything as deliciously inappropriate.”
Hell on wheels! My heart goes boing-boing between my stomach and my throat. Ohmigod, I am so freakin’ stunned, that I momentarily forget about any of my men-related apprehensions. I seem to forget a lot of thing around Colin.
“Fair enough.” I force myself not to look away, but, instead, keep my eyes locked with his. Slowly, I start to relax. Not completely, mind you, but enough to enjoy the evening. I really hope he isn’t a charming liar though. I resolve to be cautious and see where things are going before they go too far too fast. After all, he might not be a true bad boy, but an almost bad boy. And that can be potentially as dangerous.
Colin lowers my hand down onto the counter and covers it with his. Still looking in my eyes and smiling he says quietly, “So what do you like to do in your spare time, besides exposing your half-dressed self to strangers?”
I glare at him and smack his arm. “You will rub it in forever, won’t you?”
“Forever is a very long time. You looked scrumptious enough that day to make me need a splash of cold water over my face.”
“You could have taken a cold shower. We have one in our office.” I scowl.
“There wasn’t time before the meeting. And I didn’t see any bath towels.” He leans closer and pushes a chunk of my hair behind my ear. His fingers brush sensitive skin by my ear, and my stomach clenches in that delicious way that sends shivers down under my skirt.
My brain immediately joins in the fool’s parade and produces visions of naked Colin covering my equally naked body in bed, his knee pushing my legs open, his hands lifting my thighs up until my bent knees rest over his shoulders. Okay, Natalie, get your thoughts out of the gutter. I suppress a shiver and take what I hope should pass for a casual sip from my water glass. I have no idea why his touch affects me like this, but I’d be damned to let him know.
Thankfully, he decides to change the subject and put me out of my misery, bless his heart. “So, what do you like to do in your spare time?”
I shrug. “Well, I work out almost everyday at the gym, run on the weekends, read, spend a lot of time with my girlfriends, stuff like that. And I knit too.”
“Like socks?” He looks baffled.
“No. Like sweaters. And pretty scarves. Well, I knitted a Christmas sock once, so sure—socks. How about you?”
“I don’t knit, but I’m willing to learn.” He sooo pretends to be serious about this. I have to admit, that’s good acting and funny as hell too, so I laugh.
I learn that he plays guitar and piano and likes football. What guy doesn’t like football? He also knows how to dance, and that’s a really good prospect for a date. If there is to be another date.
We both have to work the next day, so I declare the fun-quitting time around 10 p.m. Colin doesn’t object, only smiles and nods in agreement. He calls a taxi, and when it arrives, he opens the pub door for me and holds it until I step outside. Wow, a gentleman. I like that. I actually like all those little things that some women frown upon. Maybe they feel robbed of their feminism-driven personas. But I don’t have that issue. I actually like when a man opens the door for me; or helps me put my coat on; or holds the car door open; little things like that. Maybe it is old school, but that’s just the way I am—a helpless romantic. Which doesn’t mean that if a guy does something absolutely nasty to me, I wouldn’t have the nerve to punch him in the face. Twice.
Right before we arrive at my apartment building, I turn to Colin and say, “It was really nice. I had a good time.”
He takes my hand in his, turns it so my palm faces up, and, looking straight in my eyes, kisses it. Long. God, it is a long kiss, and my insides turn to mush. My vagina sings Hallelujah!, and my lungs temporarily forget what their major function is, until I turn red in the face and realize I’m holding my breath.
Continuing to hold my eyes hostage with his, Colin winks and then one corner of his mouth lifts up very slightly. Ohmigod, he looks like some freakin’ god of lust. Eros, Himeros, Pothos, Peitho—how the hell do I even remember all those naughty Greek gods’ names right now?
“Can I call you sometime?” he whispers.
Can you? Yes. Yes! Do you really need to ask? “Sure.” I smile sweetly. “You’ve got my number.”
When the taxi stops at my destination, Colin still holds my hand. I squeeze it, and he lets go. He jumps out of the vehicle, runs around the back, and yanks the door open for me. No way! He really does. My mouth usually has a mind of its own, so it opens now but doesn’t say anything. I clamp it shut, scolding my brain for not controlling the situation as it’s outlined in its job description.
Colin hugs me lightly, and my pulse reaches the red zone. Hell on wheels, either my hormones are out of whack, or that man is irresistible to me. I don’t recall ever being drawn in such a primal way to anyone else before.
“Sleep well,” he whispers in my hair. He smells faintly of something sensual—sweet and smoky cologne with leather-like undertones. The fragrance is amazing, and I think it is just like Colin—complex and mysterious.
“You too.” I step out of his embrace, trying to look anywhere but at him. Because if I do, I won’t be able to stop myself from kissing him. And my brand new rule says: not until date number four. Well, that’s about sex, but I suspect if we kiss now, we will end up naked in my bed.
I walk to the apartment building door, my body shaking from this sexually charged encounter. I enter the code on a small keypad on the wall and get inside. The hallway is dimly lit, and I welcome the lack of brightness, because my eyes feel tired and dry.
Since I never bother with the elevator, I climb two flights of stairs to my apartment, and not long after, I slide under the covers. A long and loud sound of relief escapes me when my cheek rests on the cool fabric of my pillow. I turn the side lamp off and close my eyes, experiencing almost immediately that blissful feeling of drifting off into nothingness. And then my cell phone rings.
“Gaaaah!” I growl. “What now?” I consider not answering. Whoever it is, can wait till morning. It was a stupid idea to leave the phone on—and on my bedside table.
But I reach out and pick the damn thing up. I don’t recognize the number displayed on the screen. “Hallo?” I croak.
I’m fully awake in a split second, my heart beating faster.
“I’m sorry. Did I wake you?” he asks, apologetically.
“No,” I stifle a yawn. “It’s okay.”
“Just wanted to wish you a goodnight.” There it is—that velvety-soft voice with a bit of gruff edges. I want to capture it and keep it locked in a jar.
“That’s sweet. Thank you.” I manage to keep my own voice steady. It wants to quiver, matching my pounding heart.
“I’ll call you tomorrow. Goodnight, beautiful Natalie.”
“Goodnight,” I choke out. I can’t remember any guy calling me beautiful. Hot, cute, sexy, but not beautiful. Ever. Holy smokes! Can this man get any better?