He picked up my menu and handed it back to me. “I’ve been eating at this bar since before it was legal for me to get inside. Trust me. Go with the potato skins.”
I nodded. I should say something witty or flirty, but I had nothing. I was sucking at this new Lila Kate thing. “Okay,” was my wonderful response. Just “okay.” What was wrong with me? I had seen attractive men all my life. Why was this one making it hard for me to talk?
“Larissa!” he called out, and the redhead turned to look at him with a frown that reached her forehead.
“What, Eli?” She didn’t move from her position at the bar.
He looked at me. “What’s your name?”
That I could answer easily enough. “Lila,” I replied deciding that the new Lila Kate was going to drop that Kate. That name was silly and it made me sound ten years old. Lila was . . . sexier.
He gave me a crooked grin. “Lila. I like that. Fits you.” Then he turned back to Larissa. “Lila here wants the potato skins loaded with crab.”
Larissa walked over to us. “I see you’re making friends,” she said to Eli and then smiled at me. “He’s had a little too much tonight. I’d cut him off but trust me this is a rarity for him. Anyway, did he order for you because he’s planning on eating your food, or do you want the loaded potatoes?”
Everyone knew each other here. How nice. It was like a television show. “Yes, he has sold me on them. They sound delicious.”
Larissa chuckled. “Don’t set your hopes too high. They’re good but delicious may be pushing it. What about a drink?”
Normally, I’d order bottled water. Instead, I said, “Dirty martini please.”
I reached for my purse and took out my license then handed it to her. She glanced at it and nodded then looked at the guy beside me. “Behave,” she said before walking off behind the bar.
He sat down on the stool beside me and leaned back against the bar looking out over the crowd. “I’ve never seen you here before. Where are you from Lila?”
I started to say Rosemary Beach but stopped myself. I didn’t know this guy. He was a stranger. I wanted to live free and wild, but I needed to be careful to a certain degree.
“Florida,” I replied instead. It was a big state. I could be vague.
He nodded. “Florida, huh? I was assuming you were on vacation, but if you’re from Florida, I doubt that. Why vacation at this beach when you have beautiful ones there? What brings you to Alabama?”
I liked his voice. It was soothing. It paired nicely with the way he smelled—very appealing. “I’m traveling west. Going on an adventure of sorts.”
He turned to look at me then. “An adventure? Alone?”
Okay, that was a bad idea. I shouldn’t tell a strange guy I was alone. “No, I’m traveling with friends,” I lied quickly.
“Dirty martini,” Larissa said placing the drink I ordered in front of me. It had the ice slivers in it that I loved.
“Thank you. This looks wonderful.”
“She’s the best,” Eli agreed. “Now how about another Jack?” he asked her.
“How about a glass of water first,” she said sliding a glass of water in front of him.
“You’re killing my buzz, Larissa,” he said looking unhappily at his glass of water.
“I’m saving your ass,” she told him. Then she turned and said to me over the music that was growing louder, “Eli’s a nice guy. Better when he’s sober. And your food will be out in five,” she said holding up her hand with her five fingers spread.
I figured he had the approval of the bartender who seemed nice enough. I wasn’t going to be abducted or raped tonight. That was a relief.
TOO MUCH ALCOHOL was never a good thing. Unless you were home alone with pizza, or even better, Chinese food and the box set of Rocky DVDs. Then you were safe. But I’d been sworn off women for three weeks. The last women I had dated had made a wedding planner by the sixth date and proceeded to show it to me. That had been our last date.
I missed women. I’ll admit it. The one sitting next to me was gorgeous, and she reminded me of that etiquette book my grandmother made Larissa read when we were kids. Grandma tried to make me read that book, but I wasn’t doing it. I pretended. The picture of the girl on the front of the book was so polished and polite—that look hadn’t been attractive until now. Wrapped up in this package beside me, it was a complete turn on.
Watching her attempt to eat a potato skin with a fork and knife was priceless. Larissa’s face when she asked for “flatware” had been even better. We had grown up around my grandmother, so we were used to proper people. But in a place like Live Bay, you didn’t run into this sort of girl.
I was positive Larissa was as entertained as me. Probably not as fascinated, but fucking entertained. Larissa was giving me the “be good” glare every time she came over to get our drinks.
She was my aunt, but she was only a couple of years older than me. We’d grown up more like cousins. She had lived with us for a time, but I was too young to remember.
It had taken some acting to pretend I wasn’t as drunk as I actually was to get her to give me another whiskey.
Finally, I reached over and picked up one of the potato skins and held it to her little pink perfect mouth. She frowned immediately. “Eat it with your hands. Try it. The grease gets on your fingers, but somehow that makes it all better.”
I wasn’t a junk food guy. I was a runner and very careful about the food I ate until I got drunk. Then I ate all the bad shit. However, Lila was keeping me from eating the greasy bar food. I was too enthralled with her to care about anything else.
She took a dainty bite, and then cover her mouth as she chewed, grinning as if she had done something completely wicked. Damn, that was hot. There was no way she was as perfect as I saw her. She had to have something wrong with her. I just couldn’t see clearly through the drunken haze. I needed to tread carefully.
I tried to focus harder to see if her teeth were bucked or if there was a gap big enough for food to fit through. Maybe she had bad breath? Or was married? I began checking those for evidence of those intently.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
I wasn’t about to tell her I was trying to focus enough to find her flaws. There had to be a reason I was the only guy in this bar hitting on her. If she was, in fact, as fucking perfect as my mind was telling me she was, then she should have several guys hovering around her. That was my first clue. I could ask Larissa, but then she’d stop giving me drinks, and possibly slap me across the face for being so shallow.
I went with the best excuse. “I was trying to figure out if you were married or engaged.”
She laughed then. Out loud. A musical sound that made me feel nice all over. “Married? Why would you think I was married? And why were you studying my mouth like it was a science experiment? Was it going to tell you I was married?”
I wasn’t very smooth. Maybe I should drink some water.
“Just checking to see if those green onions were sticking in your teeth. They always get in mine.”
She laughed again. Damn, I liked that laugh. I liked that she thought my lie was funny.