Chapter 1 : Sweet Escape... And a Little Steam
“Boob check," Maggie chirped, leaning around me and placing her hands on my chest.
I gave her a look of dead disbelief. Earlier, she'd put me in a strappy form-fitting blue top and skirt and told me that it was guaranteed to make Thomas (my ex) regret dumping me and losing his business partner in turn.
“Personal space, dude," Erin said, swatting our friend's hand off of me.
Maggie rolled her eyes and adjusted her dress to show off another quarter inch of cleavage. “What's it gonna hurt?" she pouted. “You know what they say about how to get over one man…"
“Yeah, yeah, you have to get under the next—" I started flatly.
“Nope," Maggie said smugly. “You just have to go out into the world looking hot and get complimented by all of the other men in the world. At least… that's how I do it."
Erin rolled her eyes but smiled. “Let's go get hit on then," she said, looping her arm through mine and heading inside the bar.
Maggie pittered behind us, still distracted by her own boobs.
“Wait, Isa! Look out—" she called.
Just then, a tall, lean man slammed into me, shoulder-checking me into the doorframe. I grabbed my shoulder, too stunned by the sudden jolt to feel any pain or anger.
That wasn't the case for Maggie. “Hey, asswipe!" she yelled, spinning around and smacking the guy on the back.
The guy turned around nonchalantly, maybe a little wobbly, and tried hard to center his hazy eyes on Maggie's speckled nose.
“Nine o'clock and he's already drunk?" Erin mumbled next to me.
“Woah, you're kind of cute," the guy mumbled to Maggie, a sloppy smile curling up on his face.
Maggie looked at Erin and me over her shoulder and gave us a wink, waving her hand at us to go on.
“That was fast," I chuckled.
Erin's gaze lingered on Maggie and the stumbling fool. Erin was always the anxious type.
“She'll be alright. Otherwise, she wouldn't have told us to go on," I assured her, pulling lightly on Erin's wrist.
As soon as I turned around, BAM, I slammed into another body.
“Fu—" I muttered, quickly growing irritated with this bar and all of these aloof jerks. I swiped my hair back and glared up… up…
Damn, this guy was tall. And broad… and… sharp…
“Sorry about that," he said with a polite but hurried nod.
He didn't meet my eyes before he rushed out of the door and left me stunned, confused about whether or not I should be mad.
“That really was fast," Erin joked, peeking around me to analyze the damage.
“Over just as quickly as it started," I huffed as I pressed my way into the busy bar with Erin right on my heels.
The night did not prove to be nearly as exciting as it started. The music was loud, and the people were just sweaty swaying blobs out on the dance floor. Maggie had joined us shortly after we'd approached the bar to get our first drinks. Apparently, the guy she stopped to talk to was too drunk to have any fun with.
We started with two chocolate cake shots: one to celebrate my newfound (and unexpected) freedom, and the other to celebrate my newfound (and unexpected) job opportunity.
I wasn't expecting to start such a nice, cushy job so soon after leaving my own company, but when the opportunity knocked, I swung the door open and yanked it inside like I was harboring it as a fugitive. But my first day would be there before I knew it, and I was ready to start anew.
We clinked our glasses together and downed our shots. Not two seconds after our empty glasses hit the table, Maggie dragged me and Erin out into the swarm of bodies grinding together.
“I thought this was supposed to be a classy joint," Erin mouthed, not bothering to try to shout over the blaring electronic dance music. We were both a little bit out of our comfort zones in a place like this.
About three songs in, I managed to catch the eye of a clean-shaven man standing at the bar. He waved me over, holding up his drink and pointing behind him at the wall of alcohol.
“What are you waiting for? GO!" Maggie said, suddenly appearing like a devil on my shoulder. She rump-bumped me and sent me stumbling towards the bar.
“H-Hi," I stuttered, already super embarrassed. I was confident in myself and all, but I hadn't had to worry about meeting a new man in over four years. This was new territory for me.
“You want drink?" the man asked in a heavy Russian accent.
I did my best not to look surprised. I wasn't expecting a possible foreign love affair. I nodded. “Whatever you're having."
The man ordered and swiveled around, smiling widely at me. He patted the barstool next to him so I took a seat. He stood there smiling at me for too long, not saying anything.
“So, uh, what's your name?" I asked, deciding to end the awkwardness and take some initiative.
He responded but I couldn't hear—or maybe I just didn't understand—so I did the thing where you nod and smile. We made small talk for a few minutes (most of which I couldn't hear for the combination of the loud music and the accent) while I choked down the yorsch he'd bought me. But I gathered that he was here for business. Something about technology?
Honestly, the conversation was feeling dead to me, and I wasn't into it. I was grateful that Erin came up and asked me to go to the bathroom with her. I excused myself, not sure whether I should ghost him or go back and bear another free yorsch.
“How's it going out there?" I asked Erin as she washed her hands.
She raised her eyebrows and sucked in a sharp breath. “I am not cut out for this," she laughed. “Please tell me that you'll glue yourself to me for the rest of the night. I can't keep up with Maggie."
I wrinkled my nose, fully understanding her.
As we exited the bathroom I bumped into someone yet again. For some reason, it totally set me off. “The f-ing men in this place!" I yelled, jerking back to look at the culprit.
I laughed dryly. It was the same guy from earlier that bumped into me. The second one.
“My bad, lady," he muttered, leaning lazily into the wall. “Seriously, I just can't tell if I'm walking on marbles or if the floor is made of slime but I can't…"
“Can't?" I urged on, hoping for a real apology.
“Can't finish a sentence," he said with a cute little chuckle. He was so pathetic it made me loosen up a bit. Something about this man told me that he didn't mean any harm. At least he acknowledged his fault. It seemed like he needed help more than anything.
“You, uh, gonna be okay?" I asked, bending down to get on his level.
He had his hands on his knees, and he was half laughing half sucking in air like he forgot how to breathe. From the sharp creases in his slacks to his Rolex and silver cufflinks, I assumed that he was yet another businessman—a common sight in this part of Washington State.
The man shrugged. “What happens after your worst best friend dares you to drink a whole bottle of Crown Royal Apple?
“A whole bottle?" I gasped.
“It was supposed to be, but I didn't even make it halfway."
Erin raised an eyebrow at me. I gave her a shrug but told her to go on back to Maggie. “I'll text you if anything weird happens," I promised.
“So what happens next?" the man asked again, a goofy grin showcasing a set of dazzling white teeth. He was a good-looking guy.
“I guess that depends on what kind of drinker you are…" I said, suddenly finding the amusement in the situation.
“Not. Not a drinker," he said, his face reddening and his smile falling flat.
“You should be proud of yourself," I said. “You didn't even throw up."
“Check in again in the morning with the hungover me," he said, swinging his legs over the side of the fire escape.
I chuckled. What a strange hour-and-a-half it had been since I ran into this guy outside of the girls' bathroom. He had sobered up after some cool, fresh September air and a walk up and down the block where he smelled pizza and suddenly became hungry.
I ordered us carry-out and took him and the large pepperoni and banana peppers pizza up the fire escape beside the bar. There were people making out underneath, and while I was hyper-aware of them, he was engrossed in his pizza, shoving nearly a fourth of the face-sized slice into his mouth all at once.
Never would I ever have expected this series of behaviors from a man dressed as he was dressed: Tom Ford suit jacket, Gucci shoes, Rolex watch. His mid-length brown hair was swept back behind his ears and his nearly-black eyes buzzed with brightness as he chowed down on his food.
Despite his sexiness, there was something about him that did more than cause an ache deep in my belly; he also managed to pull at my heartstrings. Was “adorable" the right word for this? It felt right.
“Hey thanks for hanging out with me. You're pretty cool," he said suddenly.
I raised my eyebrows at the unanticipated compliment. “You're right. I am cool. Thanks for noticing."
He chuckled and finished off his pizza slice before leaning forward on the rails of the fire escape. I almost reached out to brush it off before his nice suit touched the grimy bars, but I restrained myself.
“Have you ever ACTUALLY seen the stars before?"
I couldn't help but laugh. “What do you mean?"
He rolled his head to the side and looked up at me. The reflection of the streetlights in his dark eyes sure looked a lot like stars to me. I shook my head. “Not really, not like those photographs of what they look like out in the Serengeti."
“That's too bad. I was hoping you could tell me what they're like."
The tinge of melancholy in his voice made my insides ache. I patted his knee to comfort him, but he took my hand in his and held it, head tilted up looking at the night sky.
“If the stars are so bright, how can they hide so easily? Where do they even go?" he asked, giving my hand a squeeze.
I smiled softly. “Legend has it, they're out there," I whispered, pointing past the tops of the buildings.
He hummed in faux enlightenment and leaned over slightly, pressing his shoulder into mine. I had the urge to scoot closer to him until our thighs were sandwiched together.
“Should we see if we can find them?" he asked, suddenly jumping up.
He yanked me up before I could respond, leading me up the fire escape and abandoning our half-eaten pizza. I jogged up the rickety stairs after him, not minding the height or the bite of the cool night. His hand was warm, but it felt nice.
What an unexpected, bewildering moment to be running up the fire escape with a handsome, rich, quirky stranger. It felt like a dream.
When we reached the top, I was breathless, but the world felt boundless. He raced over to the edge of the rooftop ledge and looked out beyond the city before glancing over at me with a crooked grin.
“Well, at least we can see the moon. Sometimes that's better than the stars," he said.
I let myself stand close to him, elbow to elbow, hip to hip. “Better than the stars?"
He nodded. “Yeah. I mean, we only have one moon, but there's billions of stars, right? Doesn't that make it more special?"
How simple and profound, I thought, gazing at the curve of his smile.
I must have stared too long because he glanced down at me and got a little shy. “What?" he asked.
“Something tells me you're special," I said. I didn't even laugh at the triple-packed cheese in that statement because I didn't mean it ironically.
He smiled, settling into the moment, focusing on my lips, and letting the distance slowly close between us.
I parted my lips even before his full lips met mine. Something that began with heat and curiosity, a questing of lips, exploded into the steamiest kiss I'd ever experienced.
My tall, dark stranger pulled me down the fire escape to his level, pressing me against the side of the building. I could feel his arousal through my skirt, and I moaned against his lips.
“Mmmm… tasty…" he murmured, and his hand slid up under my shirt to pop a breast out of my bra and massage it.
I thought back to Maggie's boob check and was pretty sure I'd fail right now, given I was one out and one in.
Something inside told me I really should stop this. I mean, I didn't even know the guy's name.
The rest of me was more than happy to be manhandled by his warm, strong hands.
A few more moments, however, had me remembering we were out where God and everyone could see us if they looked up. I sighed and pulled back a little.
“Sorry. I'm not a screw-around-on-the-roof kind of girl," I said regretfully.
He smiled apologetically at me. “No, I'm sorry. I got carried away."
A phone rang insistently. Frowning, he put a hand in his pocket and pulled out what could only be the newest model Apple iPhone. 'Sorry,' he mouthed, then, into the phone, said, “Yes?"
I waited, feeling awkward suddenly.
“You've got to be kidding me," he grunted. “No, don't do anything. You've already done enough. I'm coming. I'll handle it." He stabbed his finger on the 'end call' button and looked down at me.
He stroked my cheek with his fingertips. “Damn. I wish I could stay."
I blushed. “Probably best if you didn't."
He nodded, helped me right my clothing, then went down the fire escape.