I took a deep breath.
You are awesome. I didn’t quite believe it so I thought it again. Awesome. You are so awesome.
If my mother heard my thoughts, she’d tell me that I needed to be humble, but humility had gotten me nowhere.
Bliss Edwards, you are a freaking catch.
So then how did I end up twenty-two years old, and the only person I knew who had never had sex? Somewhere between Saved by the Bell and Gossip Girl, it became unheard of for a girl to graduate college with her V-Card still in hand. And now I was standing in my room, regretting that I’d gathered the courage to admit it to my friend Kelsey. She reacted like I’d just told her I was hiding a tail underneath my A-line skirt. And I knew before her jaw even finished dropping that this was a terrible idea.
“SERIOUSLY? Is it because of Jesus? Are you, like, saving yourself for him?” Sex seemed simpler for Kelsey. She had the body of a Barbie and the sexually-charged brain of a teenage boy.
“No, Kelsey,” I said. “It would be a little difficult to save myself for someone who died over two thousand years ago.”
Kelsey whipped off her shirt and threw it on the floor. I must have made a face because she looked at me and laughed.
“Relax, Princess Purity, I’m just changing shirts.” She stepped into my closet and started flipping through my clothes.
“Because, Bliss, we’re going out to get you laid.” She said the word ‘laid’ with a curl of her tongue that reminded me of those late night commercials for those adult phone lines.
She pulled out a shirt that was snug on me, and would be downright scandalous on her curvy frame.
“What? You said it wasn’t about him.”
I resisted the urge to slam my palm into my forehead.
“It’s not, I don’t think… I mean, I go to church and all, well, sometimes. I just… I don’t know. I’ve never been that interested.”
She paused with her new shirt halfway over her head.
“Never interested? In guys? Are you gay?”
I once overheard my mother, who couldn’t understand why I was about to graduate college without a ring on my finger, ask my father the same question.
“No Kelsey, I’m not gay, so keep putting your shirt on. No need to fall on your sexual sword for me.”
“If you’re not gay and it’s not about Jesus, then it’s just a matter of finding the right guy, or should I say… the right sexual sword.”
I rolled my eyes. “Gee? Is that all? Find the right guy? Why didn’t someone tell me sooner?”
She pulled her blonde hair back into a high ponytail, which somehow drew even more attention to her chest. “I don’t mean the right guy to marry, honey. I mean the right guy to get your blood pumping. To make you turn off your analytical, judgmental, hyperactive brain and think with your body instead. “
“Bodies can’t think.”
“SEE!” She said. “Analytical. Judgmental.”
“Fine! Fine. Which bar tonight?”
“Stumble Inn, of course.”
I groaned. “Classy.”
“What?” Kelsey looked at me like I was missing the answer to a really obvious question. “It’s a good bar. More importantly, it’s a bar that guys like. And since we do like guys, it’s a bar we like.”
It could be worse. She could be taking me to a club.
“Fine. Let’s go.” I stood, and headed for the curtain that separated my bedroom from the rest of my loft apartment.
“WHOA! Whoa.” She grabbed my elbow and pulled me so hard that I fell back on my bed. “You can’t go like that. “
I looked down at my outfit—flowery A-line skirt and simple tank that showed a decent amount of cleavage. I looked cute. I could totally pick up a guy in this… maybe.
“I don’t see the problem,” I said.
She rolled her eyes, and I felt like a child. I hated feeling like a child, and I pretty much always did when talk turned to sex.
Kelsey said, “Honey, right now you look like someone’s adorable little sister. No guy wants to screw his little sister. And if he does, you don’t want to be near him.”
Yep, definitely felt like a child. “Point taken.”
“Hmm… sounds like you’re practicing turning off that overactive brain of yours. Good job. Now stand there and let me work my magic.”
And by magic, she meant torture.
After vetoing three shirts that made me feel like a prostitute, some pants that were more like leggings, and a skirt so short it threatened to show the world my hoo-hoo in the event of a mild breeze, we settled on some tight low-rise denim capris, and a lacy black tank that stood out in contrast to my pale white skin.
“Other… things… shaved?”
“As much as they are ever going to be yes, now move on.” That was where I drew the line of this conversation.
She grinned, but didn’t argue. “Fine. Fine. Condoms?”
“In my purse.”
“Turned off. Or well… dialed down, anyway.”
“Excellent. I think we’re ready.”
I wasn’t ready. Not at all.
There was a reason I hadn’t had sex yet, and now I knew it. I was a control freak. It was why I had done so well in school my entire life. It made me a great stage manager—no one could run a theatre rehearsal like I could. And when I did get up the nerve to act—I was always more prepared than any other actor in class. But sex… that was the opposite of control. There were emotions, and attraction, and that pesky other person that just had to be involved. Not my idea of fun.
“You’re thinking too much,” Kelsey said.
“Better than not thinking enough.”
“Not tonight it’s not,” she said.
I turned up the volume of Kelsey’s IPod as soon as we got in the car so that I could think in peace.
I could do this. It was just a problem that needed to be solved, an item that needed to be checked off my to-do list.
It was that simple.
Keep it simple.
We pulled up outside the bar several minutes later, and the night felt anything, but simple. My pants felt too tight, my shirt too low-cut, and my brain too clouded. I wanted to throw up.
I didn’t want to be a virgin. That much I knew. I didn’t want to feel like the immature prude who knew nothing about sex. I hated not knowing things. The trouble was… as much as I didn’t want to be a virgin, I also didn’t want to have sex.
The conundrum of all conundrums. Why couldn’t this be one of those square is a rectangle, but rectangle is not always a square kind of things?
Kelsey was standing outside my door, her high-heeled shoes snapping in time with her fingers as she roused me out of the car. I squared my shoulders, tossed my hair (half-heartedly), and followed Kelsey into the bar.
I made a beeline straight to the bar, wiggled myself onto a stool, and waved down the bartender.
He was a possibility. Blond hair, average build, nice face. Nothing special, but certainly not out of the question. He could be good for simple.
“What can I get for y’all, ladies?”
Southern accent. Definitely a homegrown kind of boy.
Kelsey butted in, “We need two shots of tequila to start.”
“Make it four,” I croaked.
He whistled, and his eyes met mine. “That kinda night, huh?”
I wasn’t ready to put into words what kind of night this was. So I just said, “I’m looking for some liquid courage.”
“And I’d be glad to help.” He winked at me, and he was barely out of earshot before Kelsey bounced in her se
at, saying, “He’s the one! He’s the one!”
Her words made me feel like I was on a roller coaster, like the world had just dropped and all my organs were playing catch up. I just needed more time to adjust. That’s it. I grabbed Kelsey’s shoulder, and forced her to still. “Chill, Kels. You’re like a freaking Chihuahua.”
“What? He’s a good choice. Cute. Nice. And I totally saw him glance at your cleavage… TWICE.”
She wasn’t wrong. But I still wasn’t all that interested in sleeping with him, which I suppose didn’t have to rule him out, but this sure would be a hell of a lot easier if I was actually interested in the guy. I said, “I’m not sure… there’s just no spark.” I could see an eye roll coming, so I tagged on a quick, “Yet!”
When Bartender Boy returned with our drinks, Kelsey paid, and I took my two shots before she even handed over her card. He stayed for a moment, smiling at me, before moving on to another customer. I stole one of Kelsey’s remaining shots.
“You’re lucky this is a big night for you, Bliss. Normally, nobody gets between me and my tequila.”
I held my hand out and said, “Well, nobody will get between these legs unless I’m good and drunk so hand me the last one.”
Kelsey shook her head, but she was smiling. After a few seconds, she gave in, and with four shots of tequila in my system the prospect of sex seemed a little less scary.
Another bartender came by, this one a girl, and I ordered a Jack and coke to sip on while I puzzled through this whole mess.
There was Bartender Boy, but he wouldn’t get off until well after 2 A.M. I was a nervous wreck already, so if this dragged on till the wee hours of the morning, I’d be completely psychotic. I could just imagine it… straight-jacketed due to sex.
There was a guy standing next to me who seemed to move several inches closer with every drink I took, but he had to be at least forty. No, thank you.
I gulped down more of my drink, thankful the bartender went heavy on the Jack, and scanned the bar.
“What about him?” Kelsey asked, pointing to a guy at a nearby table.
“Ew. Too hairy.”
The list continued until I was pretty sure this night was a bust. Kelsey suggested we hit another bar, which was the last thing I wanted to do. I told her I had to go to the bathroom, and hoped someone would catch her eye while I was gone so that I could slip away with no drama. The bathroom was at the back, past the pool and darts area, behind a section with some small round tables.
That was when I noticed him.
Well, technically, I noticed the book first.
And I just couldn’t keep my mouth closed. “If that’s supposed to be a way to pick up girls, I would suggest moving to an area with a little more traffic.”
He looked up from his reading, and suddenly I found it hard to swallow. He was easily the most attractive guy I’d seen tonight—blond hair falling into crystal blue eyes, just enough scruff on his jaw to give him a masculine look without making him too hairy, and a face that could have made angels sing. It wasn’t making me sing. It was making me gawk. Why did I stop? Why did I always have to make an idiot of myself?
My mind was still processing his perfect hair and bright blue eyes, so it took me a second to say, “Shakespeare. No one reads Shakespeare in a bar unless it’s a ploy to pick up girls. All I’m saying is you might have better luck up front.”
He didn’t say anything for a long beat, but then his mouth split in a grin revealing, what do you know, perfect teeth!
“It’s not a ploy, but if it were, it seems to me that I’m having great luck right here.”
An accent. HE HAD A BRITISH ACCENT. Dear God, I was dying.
Breathe. I needed to breathe.
Don’t lose it, Bliss.
He put his book down, but not before marking his place. My God, he was really reading Shakespeare in a bar.
“You’re not trying to pick up a girl?”
My analytical brain did not miss his use of the past tense. As in… he hadn’t been trying to seduce anyone before, but perhaps he was now.
I took another look at him. He was grinning now—white teeth, jaw stubble that made him look downright delectable. Yep, I was definitely seducible. And that thought alone was enough to send me into shock.
“What’s your name, love?”
Love? LOVE! Still dying, here.
“Is that a line?”
I blushed crimson. “No, it’s my name.”
“Lovely name for a lovely girl.” The timbre of his voice went into that low register that made my insides curl in on themselves—it was like my uterus was tapping out a happy dance on the rest of my organs. God, I was dying the longest, most tortuous, and arousing death in the history of the world. Was this what it always felt like to be turned on? No wonder sex made people do crazy things.
“Well, Bliss, I’m new in town, and I’ve already locked myself out of my apartment. I’m waiting on a locksmith, actually, and I figured I’d put this spare time to good use.”
“By brushing up on your Shakespeare?”
“Trying to, anyway. Honestly, I’ve never liked the bloke all that much, but let’s keep that a secret between us, yeah?”
I was pretty sure my cheeks were still stained red, if the heat coming off of them was any indication. In fact, my whole body felt like it was on fire. I wasn’t sure whether it was mortification or his accent that had me about to spontaneously combust in front of him.
“You look disappointed, Bliss. Are you a Shakespeare fan?”
I nodded, because my throat might have been closing up.
He wrinkled his nose in response, and my hands itched to follow the line of his nose down to his lips.
I was going crazy. Actually, certifiably insane.
“Don’t tell me you’re a Romeo and Juliet fan?”
Now, this. This was something I could discuss.
“Othello, actually. That’s my favorite.”
“Ah. Fair Desdemona. Loyal and Pure.”
My heart stuttered at the word pure.
“I, um,” I struggled to piece together my thoughts. “I like the juxtaposition of reason and passion.”
“I’m a fan of passion, myself.” His eyes dipped down then, and ran the length of my form. My spine tingled until it felt like it might burst out of my skin.
“You haven’t asked me my name,” he said.
I cleared my throat. This couldn’t be attractive. I was about as sociable as a caveman. I asked, “What’s your name?”
He tilted his head, and his hair almost covered his eyes.
“Join me, and I’ll tell you.”
I didn’t think about anything other than the fact that my legs were like Jell-O, and sitting down would prevent me from doing something embarrassing like passing out from the influx of hormones that were quite clearly having a free for all in my brain. I sank into the chair, but instead of relief, the tension ratcheted up another notch.
He spoke, and my eyes snagged on his lips. “My name is Garrick.”
Who knew names could be hot, too?
“It’s nice to meet you, Garrick.”
He leaned forward on his elbows, and I noticed his broad shoulders, and the way his muscles moved beneath the fabric of his shirt. Then our eyes connected, and the bar around us went from dim to dark, while I was ensnared by those baby blues.
“I’m going to buy you a drink.” It wasn’t meant to be a question. In fact, when he looked at me, there was nothing questioning in him at all, only confidence. “Then we can chat some more about reason and… passion.”
I couldn’t tell whether the burning sensation in my chest had to do with the hooded look Garrick was giving me or the remainder of my first Jack and Coke that I just downed lik
e it was water.
A waiter arrived at Garrick’s beckoning, and I took a moment to give myself a silent pep talk while he ordered himself a drink.
“Bliss?” Garrick prompted.
His voice sent shivers through me.
I looked up at him, then at the waiter, who happened to be Bartender Boy from earlier. I opened my mouth to ask for another Jack and Coke, but Bartender Boy stopped me with a hand on my shoulder. “I remember—Jack and Coke, right?”
I nodded, and he threw me a wink and a smile. I paused wondering for a second how he knew my order. I was pretty sure the girl bartender had served me last. He was still smiling at me, so I forced myself to speak. “Thanks, um…”
“Brandon,” he supplied.
He glanced at Garrick, and then focused back on me.
“Should I tell your friend up front that you’ll be right back?”
“Oh, um, sure, I guess.”
He smiled in response, and stayed there staring at me for a few seconds before he turned to head back to the bar. I knew I had to look at Garrick again, but I was terrified I’d melt into a puddle of arousal and awkwardness if I met his gorgeous eyes again.
He said, “You know, sometimes I wonder if Desdemona was as innocent as she let on. Maybe she knew the effect she had on guys, and enjoyed making them jealous.”
I met his eyes then, and they were narrowed, studying me.
I swallowed my nerves and studied him back.