Chapter 1: Proposition
“I'm not this girl," I sighed.
The one who sat in a bar and drowned her sorrows. Yet there I was. The sounds of the Bar and Grill filtered into my chaotic thoughts. There was chatter, the clinking of glasses and cutlery, and bellowing laughter from a few drunk men in business suits a few tables over.
Getting intoxicated alone at midnight probably wasn't smart. But I took comfort in this place being on the upscale side. It was across from the Hilton. Looking around, I saw businessmen and women and other apparently wealthy folks. Chances were, no matter how wasted I got, I'd likely be fine.
The bartender, a nice-looking redhead with a gazillion piercings, looked nice enough to call me a taxi…or an ambulance if I keeled over from too much alcohol. I'm a lightweight, so I'd be a goner by my next couple of vodka tonics.
Sighing, I peered into my empty glass.
"Time for a refill," I told myself, getting up to walk to the bar.
I planned to drink enough to forget about my entire life for the rest of the weekend. Thinking about everything that happened was just too stressful. I planted my glass on the counter and smiled at the bartender. She introduced herself as Kelly earlier.
"Hey," she greeted.
"Hi. Another, please," I point at my glass.
When she slid my full glass back to me, she asked, "You want to talk about it?"
"Whatever's bothering you." She lifted a bejeweled eyebrow.
Seriously, how many piercings did she have?
"Man trouble?" she guessed.
I snorted. "I'd have to have one of those to have that kind of trouble."
Kelly laughed. "I see." Her gaze swept over my torso. "Woman trouble, then? I can help you get over that." Her lips curled into a sly grin and interest lit her eyes.
I gawked at her. I had no idea what to do when I was being hit on because my middle name is Awkward. "Er… no. Nope. Nothing like that." I was flattered. I hadn't been hit on in a while. It was a boost to my confidence.
"Okay, enjoy your drink."
"Uh… yeah, thanks." Turning away from the bar, drink in hand, I exhaled. "Why am I so lame?" I could have let Kelly down with more finesse.
I barely took two steps before Ruby the Klutz made her appearance. One second, I was upright, the next, my foot hit something. It was a chair because I hear it scrape against the hardwood as I toppled over. I gasped and prepared to hit the floor, but I didn't face plant as I expected to.
A pair of big hands clamped around my arms and kept me upright. My vodka tonic sloshed over my glass and on to my hands. To my embarrassment, some spilled on my savior's hand too. I groan, seeing droplets on what looked like a Rolex.
"I'm so sorry," I began my apology. I glimpsed a wet stain on his obviously expensive leather shoes. "Damn it. I'm really, really sorry."
"It's fine." The deep smooth baritone saturated with laughter reached me in some interesting places… including my nether region. Slowly, my eyes lifted to take in a broad chest, then a sculpted square jaw, and finally blue eyes that robbed me of breath. They were the bluest eyes I'd ever stared into. A mesmerizing, mysterious lake blue.
The gorgeous man's lips curved into a sinfully sexy smile.
Sweet baby Jesus. What was he, a model or something?
"Falling for me already? We just met," he drawled.
Although I was entranced by the hot stranger's perfectly chiseled features and dazzling eyes, I couldn't help calling him out on his pickup line. Snorting, I said, "Seriously? Does that line actually work?"
The hot stranger lifted one eyebrow. My amusement instantly died at the thought that I'd offended him. It figured I'd meet a handsome guy and put my foot in my mouth within seconds.
Why am I like this?
Surprisingly, Hot Stranger laughed. The sound sent butterfly wings amok in my stomach. "That line was lame, wasn't it?" He pressed a hand to his chest. "I usually, do much better. Please, allow me to redeem myself over a drink. I'll buy you another," he angled his chin to my half-empty glass.
It was Hot Stranger's obvious great sense of humor that reeled me in some more. "After I spilled half of this one on you? Maybe I should buy you a drink instead."
There went that stimulating laughter again. "So, we're officially drinking buddies, then." His eyes swept me from head to toe, and I swear, I almost burst into flames. If that was how he looked at women… Lord have mercy on the female population. "My night just looked up," he said.
After gawking like a fool at Hot Stranger, for the better part of an hour, I decided that I should have something else to call him by. I mean, we'd been immersed in conversation for a while, mostly chatting about trivial things like the best hang out spots in the city.
"What's your name?" I asked.
That teasing glint appeared in his eyes. It was almost always there, I'd realized. "Finally, we're exchanging names. I thought I was going to have to refer to you as Gorgeous Stranger in my head all night."
I feel my eyes widen a fraction, then heat engulfed my face
Hot Stranger smirked. "The name's Julian. What's yours?"
"Ruby." My name rolling off his tongue made the simple moniker sound so exotic.
"Why didn't you ask me my name from the beginning? You know, when you saved me from falling on my face. Thanks for that, by the way."
Julian chuckled. "You're delightful, Ruby."
He thought I was delightful and gorgeous. I officially dubbed the man my one-night-only fantasy boyfriend. There was no way this was real. In what world did a man like Julian indulge a plain Jane like me?
"You're welcome," he grinned. "I didn't ask you your name in case you wanted this to be one of those we-should-have-a wild-night-no-strings attached kind of thing." He shrugged.
I choked on my next sip of vodka tonic. Coughing, my eyes flew to his face. For the life of me, I couldn't tell if he was joking or not. The man was just too much to handle. "Let me guess, you were either the charming popular guy in high school or the class clown."
He rested his arms on the table and leaned forward. Although there was furniture between us, I gulped at the new proximity. "Both, actually," he said.
"Let me guess, you were the pretty cheerleader." As he made his guess, his eyes roved over my face and settled on my mouth.
My lips parted as if begging for him to lean closer and slant his over them. My eyebrows shot up as I pictured myself in high school. A skinny girl with awkwardly long limbs, braces, and acne, who was capable of tripping over air. "Yeah. Sure," I lied. "Pretty and graceful cheerleader. You got me."
He smirked as if he just read me like an open book and saw my lie. It was possible. He had a very penetrating gaze. It was like he could see into my soul.
"I like that you're trying to figure me out, Ruby. It means you're interested. I'm interested too."
Feeling bold—maybe because of the alcohol or maybe because of his compliments—I mimicked his pose. Arms on the table, I leaned forward until Julian and I were almost nose to nose. "Interested in what, exactly? Because I'm not into dating right now."
That was a lie. I'd totally be into dating Julian if my life hadn't been turned upside down or if I thought he was actually interested in me for more than tonight. I knew his type. He had rich, playboy written all over him. But for the moment, I was having fun with him. He was nice and engaging. Our banter so far had been amusing.
"Who said anything about dating, Ruby?" His gaze was hot and teasing.
"So, you're interested in that we-should-have-a wild-night-with-no-strings attached thing, you mentioned earlier."
He grinned. "Precisely. But I can tell you're not that kind of girl."
I snorted. "You don't know anything about me. I can have one night of fun. In fact, that's what I want with you."
Silence settled over us. Julian's eyes seemed to smolder, telling me that was definitely what he wanted with me too. It was like I was off to the side, watching myself with shock. Where had that come from? Why would those words leave my mouth?
As I stared at him, it hit me. Why use alcohol as a distraction when there was a hot-blooded, gorgeous man sitting right in front of me? What if I did something wild just this once and freed myself from my troubles for a night? Julian looked more than capable of taking me away from my real life for the moment.
"I have a room across the street," he said. "That is, if you were serious."
Sitting back, I almost tell him that was the alcohol talking. However, as I gave him another once over, I decided I needed him to distract me from the burden of the decision that I had to make in a few days.
"I was. I've had enough to drink, anyway."
Julian's eyes flickered with satisfaction, but he didn't move. Instead, he studied me for a moment, as if giving me the chance to change my mind. I supposed that was why I felt comfortable with him. He might be a player, but he was gentlemanly about it.