Watts pulled out his phone. “He will if I tell him you’re here.”
Everyone laughed but me. “Please don’t.”
“Too late,” Watts said, replacing his phone in his pocket.
Liam leaned into my ear. “So you dumped him, did ya? That’s rough.”
“I didn’t dump him. We weren’t together,” I said.
Sage spoke up. “He’s sure been moping around the last two weeks. I don’t think I’ve seen him so miserable.”
Jojo looked at me with sleepy, glazed eyes and jutted out her bottom lip.
“Chief said he’s going to let you back next season,” Liam said.
“Really?” Jojo asked, her eyebrows lifting so high they threatened to skim her hairline.
“Yeah,” Liam said. “The poor bloke heard about it every day from twenty crewmen.”
“Are you and Jack going to the airport tomorrow?” I asked.
“Nah. We’re gonna do some sightseein’. You should come.” He looked to Jojo. “Your photographer should do a feature on the Great American Road Trip. She could cover your travel section.”
“We’re not that kind of magazine,” Jojo said, annoyed with Liam now that he wasn’t flirting with her.
He turned to me again. “You should come.”
“Because I have a job, and bills, and I can’t just pick up and leave. I’ve seen the States. Most of them, anyway … and the rest of the world.”
“Oh. World traveler, are ya?” Liam said. He was beautiful—even twenty pounds leaner, cheekbones more pronounced and eyes a bit sunken in—but the part of me that wanted to act on attraction had been stolen by Tyler, and he wasn’t giving it back anytime soon.
The men at the table all covered their mouths and said Oh! in unison. I wasn’t sure why. Her comeback wasn’t that great.
“You’ve heard of him, huh?” I said, twirling the straw in my tall glass.
Jack laughed. “We’ve had Paris Hilton following us around in the woods all this time?”
I wrinkled my nose. “Take that back, fuck-knuckle. Right. Now.”
Everyone at the table but Jack and Liam looked confused. They’d heard the term plenty in Australia; it was my favorite Aussie insult.
Liam burst into laughter. “Ya soft cock! You’re just gonna take that from her?”
Jack pouted. “Maddox takes a helluva lot more from her than I do.”
I sunk in my chair, blown back by equal parts guilt, shame, and humiliation.
“I do,” Jubal said with a knowing grin. “But you can be damn sure he wouldn’t do it for anyone else.”
After a long minute of awkward silence, the crew turned to their pints and whiskey, chatting about their favorite stories from the ending season. Once in a while, they would belly laugh, always at someone’s expense. I scanned over the faces of the boys I’d come to love, wishing my favorite one were among them, but at the same time, relieved that he wasn’t.
Liam leaned in, tapping my nearly empty glass. “You need another, love?”
“Yes, please,” I said without hesitation. Someone else offering to buy me a drink wasn’t new—having to wait to drink until that happened took some getting used to.
Liam raised his index finger into the air, signaled to the waitress, and then held up my empty glass when she looked his way. She smiled at him, already enamored with his accent and the trademark hotshot tan line around his emerald eyes.
He leaned in, his lips grazing my ear when he spoke. He talked about where he and Jack were planning to drive to first, pretending to need traveling tips and laughing at my sarcasm. I’d just finished the drink he’d bought me, and was just beginning to feel a bit lighter when his gaze fell to my lips.
“I’ve been patiently waiting, ya know,” he said. “It’s been almost an hour. Your boy hasn’t come for you yet.”
I looked down. “Probably because I’m not his to come and claim.”
“Yeah, but he’s yours. I can see it all over the poor bastard’s face.”
I noted the pink tint of Liam’s lips against his bronzed skin. A faint echo deep inside me suggested I grab his face and pretend not to care that Tyler hadn’t come like Watts had said he would. The taste of Liam’s drink on my tongue wouldn’t be the worst distraction. The more I imagined his strong hands on my skin, the unhappier I felt. Sterling was supposed to have been my rock bottom, but Tyler had given up on me, just like I had—there was no lower feeling than that.
Just for one night I wished I could return to the pathologically selfish asshole I once was. Even drinking back-to-back Hurricanes couldn’t erase Ellie two-point-oh. Jojo was happily sloppy drunk, but guilt and an ache for Tyler consumed me. Exhaling, my back hit the hard wood of my chair as I wondered if more experienced company could have helped me lose myself. I needed someone supremely manipulative, heartless, and cruel—someone like me.
Liam seemed surprised at my retreat, and then he closed one eye and wrinkled his nose, almost like he was in pain. “I really fucked that one up, didn’t I? Just forget I said that. Let me help. I’ll buy you another drink.”
The door swung open, and Tyler walked in alone, shoving his hands in his pockets and looking around. When his gaze landed on me, he paused. My breath hitched, and my heart banged against my ribcage. It was all I could do not to leave my seat and run across the room and tackle him.
Tyler casually strolled over to the bar to greet Annie and grab a beer before navigating the tables to stand next to our corner booth. Each step he took seemed to take an eternity, but finally he was there, standing just a few feet away.
He eyed Liam before smiling at me. “Hey.”
“Hey,” I replied, nervous and embarrassed, knowing we sounded ridiculous in front of the crew.
Tyler grabbed a chair and sat next to Jubal, who patted him a few times on the back for encouragement. “Glad you decided to join us after all, Maddox.”
Watts smirked. “I’m sad to know we weren’t good enough for a sendoff, but add Ellie to the mix…”
Tyler took a swig of his bottle and leaned back, looking unaffected until Liam lifted his arm and rested it across the back of my chair. Tyler’s eyes darted to Liam’s extended arm, and then to Liam, a murderous glare in his eye.
“We were just talking about you, Maddox,” Liam said.
I let out an involuntary, awkward chuckle. “No we … no we weren’t.”
Tyler stayed guarded, unsure of Liam’s intention but clearly undaunted. He took another sip of his beer, then leaned forward, his elbows on the table. “Is that so?”
“No, it’s not so,” I insisted, trying to wade through the Hurricane to be present enough to avoid humiliation.