I cleared my throat. “I need to lock up.”

I had to play it just right. Taylor was only chasing me because I was running. I couldn’t appear too eager.

I sighed. “You’re not just going to go away, are you?”

One corner of his mouth curled up, a dimple sinking into his left cheek.

Taylor was unquestionably attractive. The butterflies I felt in my stomach when he looked at me were undeniable, and I wanted to hate the way I felt, even more than I wanted to hate men. His delicious full lips, a needless decoration for his already perfect features, only added to how ridiculously good-looking he was. The symmetry of his face was flawless. His chin and jaw had just the right amount of stubble—not clean-shaven and not yet the beginning of a beard. His warm chocolate eyes were intermittently hidden behind a thick line of lashes. Taylor had all the makings of an underwear model, and he knew it.

“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you? You like watching me assess your looks to decide if I’m going to let that overshadow the fact that you’re a cunt rag.”

“I’m not that bad,” he said, trying to suppress the odd amusement the words brought him.

“What is the name of the last girl you slept with? Just the first name.”

He mulled over my question, and then his shoulders sagged. “Okay, I’m kind of a cunt rag.”

I glanced down at his arms. They were both covered in neo-traditionalist tattoos. Bright colors and thick black lines displayed an eight ball, a fanned-out hand of aces and eights, a dragon, a skull, and a woman’s name.

“I’ll go away, but I don’t want to.” He glanced up at me from under his brow, turning his charm on full throttle.

Any other girl might have melted, but all I could think about was how hard fate had just slapped me in the face.

He looked down at his feet. “Why do you ask?”

I nodded toward his arm. “Is she an ex-girlfriend? Are you a scorned man, sleeping your way through debilitating heartbreak?”

My mouth immediately felt dry, my throat like I’d swallowed hot sand. I blinked. “Shit.”

He grinned. “I believe that. Listen, we got off on the wrong foot. I’m a little overprotective when it comes to men getting aggressive with women. I can’t promise you that it won’t happen again, but I can promise that it won’t happen tonight. So”—he looked at me from under his lashes, exuding the full force of his magnetic charm—“let’s go.”

I pressed my lips together. Now that I needed him, the game had become particularly risky. I had to be stubborn but not impossible. “Nope.”

His face fell, and he walked away, but then he came back, frustrated and flustered. “Goddamn, lady, quit busting my balls!”

I raised an eyebrow. “Why do you want me to go out with you so badly? Did you make a bet or something?”

“Because you keep telling me no!”

I offered a half smile. “So, if I go, you’ll leave me alone?”

“Why would I ask you out again? You think I enjoy getting shot down?”

“It just … doesn’t happen … to me.” The thought simmered. He was clearly unhappy.

“Now, I really want to tell you to kick rocks.”

“Lady,” he said, struggling to rein in his temper, “just have a couple of drinks with me. I won’t even walk you home. I swear.”

“Fine.” I reached behind me, pulling my apron tie loose with one tug. I wrapped the strings around my tips and then put it behind the counter. “Let’s go enjoy our last night together.”

He held out his hand. “It’s about fucking time.”

I let my hand fit snugly inside of his as he led me through the front door. His skin on mine made me feel warm all over, soaking into my pores, thawing a part of me that had been cold for a long time.

A quick glance over my shoulder, I could see Phaedra and Chuck waving good-bye with matching devilish grins on their faces.

Taylor pulled me across the street, not even mentioning my thrift-store jeans or the fact that I smelled like the Bucksaw. I stepped up onto the curb and continued half a block to a growing line in front of Cowboys, the country-western bar.

Taylor gestured to a guy at the entrance and then pulled me past the more appropriately dressed women who weren’t lucky enough to know the bouncer.

I tugged on Taylor’s hand, forcing him to stop.

“Darren Michaels,” I said to my former high school classmate.

“Falyn Fairchild,” Darren said. His body nearly filled the entire doorframe, his too-small black shirt stretched over the muscles hiding under his tanning bed–browned skin.

Darren chuckled. “Since I turned twenty-one, Falyn. You really should leave the Bucksaw once in a while.”

“Very funny,” I said as Taylor pulled me past Darren into the bar.

We passed the windows where women were taking money for the cover charge. One of the women behind the counter saw us but didn’t even attempt to get Taylor’s attention, instead looking to the next people in line.

“Are you using your frequent-flier miles?” I asked loud enough for him to hear me over the music.

Taylor smiled, and I pushed down the ridiculous fluttering in my chest.

“Oh, don’t tell me you’re a wine-cooler girl.” When I didn’t answer, he continued, “Cocktail? Whiskey? I give up.”

“I drink,” he said. “I also smoke. But that’s one thing they won’t let me do in here.”

“Disgusting. I’m even less attracted to you than before.”

Taylor was unfazed, leading me to a tall table. He waited until I climbed onto a stool.

“I’m going to grab a beer,” he said. “You sure you don’t want anything? Water? Soda?”

“I’ll take a water. What are you smiling about?”

“You just said you were attracted to me.” His self-satisfied smile was contagious.

“Yeah, but that was before you spoke.”

Taylor’s smile immediately vanished. “You’re so fucking mean. It’s disturbing that I like it so much.”

He approached the bar, my insults not affecting his arrogant swagger in the least. Music heavy in steel guitar and twang filled the entire space of the two-story dance hall. I let my chin rest on the heel of my hand as I picked out the people I knew from the tourists. Then I observed Taylor chatting up Shea, who had graduated a couple of years after I had and had been tending bar at Cowboys since the day after her twenty-first birthday. I waited for Taylor to flirt with her or do something else that would help solidify my initial opinion that he was a total slimebag.