It's me again! Excited to finally share this story I've been working on for the last three months!

Big love goes to Hadley for editing, and to the amazing team of ladies behind me on this one. Their input is invaluable and I wouldn't be able to do any of this without them! Hugs to Lizzie for the lovely banner!

In terms of angst... I'm bad at gauging. We'll say for now it's more romance/drama with a side of beagle pain, lol. Y'all know how I operate by now, so... :)

Thanks for reading and reviewing! See ya Friday.


"Been a while, man. Glad you made it out."


He's always on my fucking case about socializing and making time to hang, which is fine. What's not fine is that he usually wants to meet up after ten o'clock at night.

It's eight right now—the earliest he'd agree to meet up and the latest for me. My plan is to be out of this dive bar within the hour and in bed by ten.

"How's Squirt?" Jasper asks.

I smile instantly at his nickname for my daughter, and we migrate toward the bar. "Riley's good," I reply.

"She with a babysitter tonight?"

I shake my head. "Babysitters cost money." Besides, I don't really trust anyone other than my parents to watch her, and they already do enough for us.

"So, Squirt's kicking it by herself tonight, Kevin McCallister style?" Jasper jokes.

I snicker. I don't expect him to remember the custody agreement but still. As if I'd leave my fucking five-year-old at home alone.

"She's with Chels," I say, focusing on the kitschy red neon sign behind the bar that says "good vibes only."

Jasper grunts in response, the conversation not needing another word.

The bartender steers clear of our end, only paying attention to the area where the fucking girls are. My eyes drift down that way, uninterested, but looking anyway.

"Busy for a Thursday," Jasper mumbles.

I hum in agreement, but I don't actually know because I rarely go out. I stare at the crowd, watching some guy picking songs from the digital jukebox. 90's country blares. I'll take it over the crap they consider country music nowadays.

I look at my phone.


Jasper laughs. "Don't do that."

"Do what?" I ask.

"You're already plotting a way to get the fuck out of here," he says. He's not wrong. "We haven't even had a beer yet."

"Yeah, 'cause the bartender is ignoring us."

"Be patient."

"I've been patient. I gotta work tomorrow."

"Me too."

"Your twenty-five-year-old ass is used to being out most nights. I can't do that—I'm an old man, Jas."

"You're thirty-three."

"Thirty-six as of yesterday," I reply dryly.

"Shit, you are old. Happy birthday, by the way."

"Yeah, thanks."

"You do anything to celebrate?"

"You know I'm not big on birthdays. But Chels had Riley bake me a cake, and they got me a few gifts."

"Right on," he says with a nod. "This round is on me then."

"C'mon. You don't have to."

"What kinda friend would I be if I didn't buy you a beer on your birthday?"

"The kind who didn't remember at all," I say dryly.

"Exactly. Gotta redeem myself."

I laugh. "All right, all right. Thanks."

The bartender finally makes his way over. Jasper orders a beer, and when I order two for myself, he gives me a look. I'm not an alcoholic; I'm just planning ahead. Fuck if I'm gonna wait ten minutes for a brew again. Jas must understand because he says "I like your way of thinking," then orders another, too, paying for them and leaving his tab open.

Beers in hand, we find an empty table and catch up a little. He talks about his new job as an urban planner. There isn't much for me to say about mine, other than telling him what project I'm working on now—renovating an old factory into a commercial space.

Jasper and I met five years ago, at the same job I'm still at. He worked part-time at the construction site to put himself through college. Manual labor wasn't his thing—he's a self-proclaimed pretty boy—but he stuck it out. We immediately hit it off, and I kinda took him under my wing. I got him through some rough times with his alcoholic mom. He got me through my divorce from Chelsea. He's like the younger brother I never wanted, but at the end of the day, I'm glad to have.

We're on our second beer when Jasper gets a text from someone. A female someone, from the look on his face. I give him shit for being on his phone, but I don't actually care.

I swig from my bottle and glance around. The bar is so packed now. I sorta feel out of place, but maybe I just don't like this joint. The ceiling is too low, like it'll cave in at any second. I'm thinking of all the things that could go wrong safety-wise when I spot a girl walking up to the bar.

She's short. Long brown hair. Long legs in a tiny fucking skirt. I let myself glance at her ass, and then my eyes are on Jasper.

He's still busy texting, so I look back at the girl. She's turned around now, so I can sorta see her face. She's pretty without trying, wearing a T-shirt and white Converse with her skirt. I realize that there are probably a lot of attractive females here tonight. But for some reason, she's the only one I notice.

With a pint glass in her hand, she starts walking away from the bar. She peeks at her phone then slips it into the purse hanging off her shoulder.

Her gaze roams curiously, and since I'm still fucking staring, we lock eyes.

She pauses in place.

I look away, kinda flustered about being caught. The next thing I know, she's standing next to our fucking table and grinning at Jasper, whose gaze is still on his screen.

"Long time, no see," she says, then she messes with his hair. "Clearly."

He looks up from his phone and smiles widely. "B, hey. How ya been?"

She shrugs, sipping from her glass. "Good, you?"


"I haven't heard from you in a bit," she says with an easy tone. "What gives?"

"Shit, yeah. Been busy with a new job."

She nods and rolls her eyes. "All the more reason to call."

They've definitely fucked.

If not, they want to.

I dunno. The vibe is there.

Instead of sitting here like a third wheel, I stand up and head to the bathroom. I take a piss, wash my hands, and smooth a wet hand over the beard I trimmed earlier tonight.

I look at my phone.


Time to head home soon.

When I get back to the table, Jasper is gone, but the girl, B, is still there. She's no longer standing, but she's sitting in the chair next to mine.

"Where'd Jasper go?" I ask, sitting back down. I still have half a beer left. I swig. Place my cell on the table, face down. Swig again.

"He's on the phone," she says breezily. "Booty call, it seems."

She says it simply enough, without an ounce of jealousy. So, maybe they haven't slept together. Maybe my radar for that kinda shit is way off.

I laugh through my nose, feeling sort of nervous around her. "It's not even ten. Kinda early for a booty call?"

She holds my gaze. One, two, three seconds pass, and it feels too heated for a normal exchange. "Mmm, I don't think it's too early." The ease in her tone is still there, but her voice has dropped a little.

I fight the feeling that she's flirting with me.

There's no fucking way.

She's definitely out of my league. Toned and pretty, great rack, and a nice fucking ass. I like the way she holds herself. At least from what I've seen over the last few minutes. She's confident, I think. A cool air about her. Not self-conscious, the way I'm feeling right now.

I stare at her face. The swell of her lips. Wide eyes, dark brows, not too much makeup. She's more than just pretty, maybe even beautiful. I'm trying to place her age, but all I come up with is young.

Not that it matters I guess—nothing is gonna fucking happen. But still, I'm curious, and I haven't been curious about anyone in a long fucking time.

"What's your name?" I ask, peeling the label off my beer. I don't know why I did that because it leaves part of the bottle feeling sticky under my fingers.

"Bella." She keeps her eyes on mine as she brings her glass to her lips. "You're Edward, right?"

I pause mid-gulp. "How do you know my name?"

"Jasper said to wait here for you, so you wouldn't come out of the bathroom and leave."

"Oh." She's here because Jasper asked her to wait. Not that I thought she was here for me, but… "Are you here alone?"

"Yeah. I was supposed to meet up with my friend, Rose, but she's sick and forgot to cancel until I texted to ask where she is. So… yeah. I'm here alone."

I don't like that. She shouldn't be here by herself. It's not fucking safe, and my mind is on Riley then.

I pick up my phone to check the time and see that Chelsea texted me a photo of Riley asleep in bed and surrounded by all of her stuffed animals. I smile instantly at my girl.

"Are you waiting on a booty call, too?" Bella asks, and when I look up she's smiling slyly.


"You checked your phone and were smiling, so I figured someone texted you…"

"Oh." I blink. It's definitely not what she's thinking. "Just… seeing what time it is."

She looks disappointed. "Don't tell me you're about to bail?"

"Yeah, I dunno…" I finish my beer now and crane my neck to see if Jasper's on his way back.

"Should I go?" she asks.

"No. Sorry. I'm uh…" I laugh lightly, scratching along my bearded jaw. "I don't really…"


"Were you flirting with me a second ago?" I ask out of nowhere because my game is bad, and I just gotta know.

She smiles, and she's so fucking pretty. I just stare.

"I was flirting with you. Trying to, at least. Clearly failing, but—"

"It's not you, it's me," I recover quickly. "I'm bad at this."

"I'm sure you'd be very good," she muses.

Her words go straight to my dick, and I fucking swear the air crackles between us.

I was expecting the moment to be ruined by my awkwardness, but she just surprised the hell outta me.

"How old are you?" I ask because I gotta know that, too.


Fucking hell. "Oh."

"Oh?" She laughs. "Too young?"

My throat feels tight. "For what?"

"For you," she says boldly.

"No," I say automatically. "Just... surprised, is all."

I think she likes this answer because her lips turn up a bit.

"How old are you?"

"Thirty-six," I tell her, watching her face way too closely for a reaction. "Too old?"

"For what?" she echoes, smirking.

She wants me to say it.

"For you," I mumble, my stomach buzzing with lust and fucking want.

Her eyes rake over me before she meets mine again. "Nope. Just right."

Jasper walks up, then, and he sits down at the table.

"Why are you grinning?" he asks me.

I didn't know I was. "Why are you grinning?" I fire back.

"Because the girl I've been trying to get with is finally giving me a chance. She's house-sitting for her aunt and uncle and invited me over later."

"I keep telling you, I have the perfect girl for you, Jas," Bella says lightly. "She and I work at the salon together. Total ball-buster, but she's so great."

"Yeah, I dunno…" Jasper mumbles. "I kinda wanna see where this thing goes with Lauren." Bella shrugs at his indifference. "I'm gonna grab another beer, though," he tells me. "You want one, or you gonna call it an early night like you usually do?"

I kinda fucking hate him right now.

"Uh…" My eyes shift to Bella, her eyes wide as she patiently waits for my answer. I don't want to go yet. But I also can't afford to stay out too late.

"I could go for another one," she announces, finishing her beer, her heated gaze on me.

I think she wants me to stay.

"I'll get this round," I tell them, standing from the table.

Jas waves me off. "Birthday boy doesn't buy the drinks."

"It's your birthday?" Bella asks, intrigued.

"It was yesterday," I tell her.

She smiles a little. "This round is on me then." She stands and starts to walk away. I glance at her ass, but she turns around and catches me, fighting a smirk. "You want the same?" she asks, nodding toward my beer bottle.

I nod. "That'd be great, thanks."

She walks away, and this time I don't look.

The three of us hang out in the bar a little longer. Bella compliments my sleeve, asking about my ink. It's been years in the making since I've only been able to add a tattoo here and there, but it's nearly done. Her fingers trail over the art on my forearm at one point—where a brick wall fades into a cluster of evergreens—and my skin burns under her cool touch.

With Jasper here, the conversation stays casual, but my mind keeps replaying the not-so-subtle exchange Bella and I had when we were alone. After a bit, I'm convinced I was reading too much into it. It just seems so bold, so brazen, for someone like her to try to be with someone like me.

When her knee brushes mine under the table, and I'm met with a coy smile on her lips, I realize that, no, I didn't fucking make it up. She wants me. I don't know why, and I doubt for long, but she does.

So, when Jasper asks if we're down to take some beers back to the place Lauren is house-sitting and hang out by the pool, despite my better judgment, I say okay.