I BURST THROUGH THE doors of this random Starbucks in this random neighborhood in the hopes of forgetting the second-worst lay of my life. Toby Amsler: Fantastically flirty, hot, and with the added bonus of being on the UCSD water polo team—he had all the makings for a night of world-class, toe-curling fun.
False advertising at its finest.
You see, when it comes to potential love interests, guys typically fall into three basic categories: the manwhore, the misunderstood, and the mama’s boy. The manwhore, in my experience, comes in any number of shapes and sizes: dirty rock star, muscled quarterback, even the occasional irresistible hot nerd. Their strength in bed? Generally, dirty talk and endurance, both of which I’m a fan. Sadly, this doesn’t always translate into skill.
The misunderstood often takes the shape of an artist, a quiet surfer, or a soulful musician. These boys rarely know what the hell to do, but at least they’re willing to try for hours.
The mama’s boy is the easiest to spot. Here in La Jolla, he usually drives his mom’s hand-me-down Lexus and keeps it in pristine condition. This type takes his shoes off as soon as he walks indoors and always maintains eye contact while speaking. In bed, the mama’s boy offers few benefits, but at least they tend to be tidy.
Toby Amsler turned out to be the rare combination of mama’s boy and manwhore, which somehow made him exponentially worse in bed. The only thing more awkward than his vacuum-suction oral skills was being woken by his mother bringing him tea and Cheerios—without knocking—at six in the morning. Not my finest wake-up call.
I’m not sure why I’m surprised. Despite what film and music would have women believe, these guys are all hopeless when it comes to the female orgasm. They learn sex from watching porn, where giving the camera a good view is the goal and no one really cares if it works for the girl, because she’ll pretend it’s awesome regardless. Sex happens up close, and inside, not at camera’s length. Guys seem to forget that.
My heart rate has yet to return to normal, and the couple in front of me is ordering at a snail’s pace. He wants to know, “What’s good for someone who doesn’t like coffee?”
Probably not a coffee shop, I want to snap. But I don’t, and remind myself that it’s not this particular man’s fault that all men are clueless, that I’m frustrated and cranky.
I swear I’m not usually prone to dramatics. I’m just having a bad morning, and I need to breathe.
Closing my eyes, I take a deep breath. There. Better.
I step away and scowl at the pastry case while contemplating my choices. And then I stop, blinking twice before narrowing my eyes and peering more closely at the case. Or, rather, at the reflection in the glass.
Is that . . . no . . . Finn Roberts . . . standing behind me?
Leaning forward, I can see that visible beside my own reflection, and in line just behind me is, indeed . . . Finn. My brain does the immediate mental pat-down. Why isn’t he in Canada? Where am I? Am I awake? Am I having a Finn Roberts nightmare in Toby Amsler’s twin-sized water bed?
I convince myself it’s a trick of the light. Maybe my brain has finally shorted out on the one morning I’d give my left arm for an orgasm—of course that would make me think of Finn, right?
Finn Roberts, the only guy who ever managed to dodge my convenient guy-category strategy—Finn Roberts, the notorious ex-husband-of-twelve-drunken-hours-in-Vegas, who was good with hands, lips, and body, and who made me come so many times he told me he thought I passed out.
Finn Roberts, who turned out to be an asshole, too.
Trick of the light. It can’t be him.
But when I chance a tiny glimpse over my shoulder, I realize it really is him. On his head is a faded blue Mariners cap pulled low over hazel eyes lined with the longest, thickest lashes I’ve ever seen. He’s wearing the same hunter green T-shirt with his family company’s white fishing logo as when I surprised him in his hometown only a little over a month ago. His arms are tanned, muscled, and crossed over his wide chest.
Finn is here. Fuck. Finn is here.
I close my eyes and groan. My body gives in to a horrifying reflex: Immediately, I feel soft and warm, my spine arches as if he’s pressing up behind me. I remember the first moment I knew we would hook up, in Vegas. Drunk, I’d pointed to him and dropped out loud to everyone, Probably gonna fuck him tonight.
To which he’d leaned over and said directly into my ear, That’s sweet. But I like to be the one doing the fucking.
And I know if I heard his voice right now—deep, calm as still water, and a little gravelly by nature—as keyed up as I am, I’d probably have an orgasm in the middle of this coffee shop.
I knew I should have just waited and driven over to Pannikin for my usual morning fix. I stay silent, counting to ten. One of my best friends, Mia, jokes that I’m only quiet if I’m surprised or pissed. Right now, I’m both.
The skinny barista kid catches my eye by leaning forward. “Would you like to try our pumpkin spice mocha?”
I nod blankly.
Wait, what? No, that sounds disgusting! A tiny, still-functioning corner of my brain yells at my mouth to order my usual: large coffee, black, no room. But I’m frozen in my stunned silence while the Starbucks barista squeaks out my order with a black Sharpie. In a daze, I hand over the money and shove my wallet back into my purse.
I steady myself and when I turn to go wait for my coffee, Finn catches my eye and smiles. “Hey, Ginger Snap.”
Without turning to face him, I make a show of studying him over my shoulder. He hasn’t shaved this morning, and his dark stubble cuts a dangerous shadow on his jaw. His neck is deeply tanned from working on the wide-open ocean all summer. I let my eyes travel lower, because—let’s be real—I’d be a fool to not drink in the sight of this man before telling him to go fuck himself.
Finn is built like one of Lola’s comic book superheroes—all broad chest and narrow waist, thick forearms, muscled legs. He gives off the appearance of impenetrability, as if that golden skin of his covers titanium. I mean, sweet Jesus, the man works with his hands, sweats when he works, fucks like it’s his vocation, and was raised by a father who expects, above anything else, that his sons are capable fishermen. I can’t imagine any of the guys I know standing next to him and looking anything other than snack-sized.
His smile slowly straightens and he tilts his head a little. “Harlow?”
Although the shadow of his hat partially hides his eyes, I can tell they widen slightly when I lift my attention from his neck. And now I remember how his gaze feels like a hook. I close my eyes and shake my head once, trying to clear it. I don’t mind swooning if the situation calls for it, but I hate the feeling when it tries to shove aside my very well-deserved, righteous indignation.
“Hold. I’m contemplating my response.”
His brows pull together in confusion . . . at least I think it’s confusion. I suspect on Finn that emotion looks the same as impatience, frustration, and concentration. He’s not exactly an open book. “Okay . . . ?”
Okay, here’s the problem: After our matrimonial adventures in Vegas, I flew up to see him. I showed up on Vancouver Island of all places, wearing nothing but a coat. Surprise! We had sex for nearly ten hours straight—rowdy sex, loud, on-every-flat-surface sex—and when I told him I had to head to the airport, he just smiled, leaned over to slide his phone off the nightstand, and called me a cab. He’d just come all over my tits, and he called a cab to drive me to the airport. In fact, it pulled up at the curb behind Finn’s brand-new, cherry-red Ford F-150.
I’d concluded, calmly, actually, that we weren’t a good fit, even for the occasional border-crossing booty call, and called it a day.
So why am I so angry he’s here?
The barista offers the same drink special to Finn, but he makes a mildly disgusted face before declining and ordering two large, black coffees.
This makes me even more irritated. His reasonable reaction should have been mine. “What the hell are you doing at my coffee shop?”
His eyes go wide, mouth forming a few different words before any actually come out. “You own this place?”
“Are you high, Finn? It’s a Starbucks. I just mean it’s my town.”
His eyes fall closed and he laughs, and the way the light catches the angle of his jaw, and the way I know exactly how that stubble would feel on my skin . . . argh.
I tilt my head, staring at him. “What’s funny?”
“It was a real possibility in my mind that you could own this Starbucks.”
With a little eye-roll, I reach for my drink and march out of the store.
Walking to my car, I stretch my neck, roll my shoulders. Why am I so annoyed?
It isn’t like I expected a carriage to be at my disposal when I showed up unannounced at his little seaside house. I’d already slept with him in Vegas, so I knew the no-strings-attached arrangement. Clearly I was there because I wanted good sex. Actually, I wanted—no, I needed—confirmation that the sex was as good as I’d remembered.
It was so much better.
So obviously it’s the bad-Toby-Amsler-sex hangover that’s killing my calm. This chance meeting with Finn would have gone very differently if I hadn’t just left the bed of the first guy I slept with after him—the first guy I’d been with in two months—and if that experience hadn’t been so unsatisfying.
Footsteps slap the asphalt behind me and I start to turn just before a powerful hand curls around my bicep. Finn grabs me harder than I think he’s intended, and the result is that my pumpkin coffee monstrosity tilts and spills onto the ground, barely missing my shoes.
I give him an exasperated look and toss my empty cup into a trash can near the curb.
“Oh, come on,” he says with a little smile. He hands me the one cup he had balancing on top of the other. “It’s not as if you were going to drink that. You wouldn’t touch the instant vanilla spice stuff I had at my place.”
Taking the coffee he’s offering, I mumble my thanks and look to the side. I’m acting exactly like the kind of woman I never want to be: jilted, martyred, put out.
“Why are you pissed?” he asks quietly.
“I’m just preoccupied.”
Ignoring this, he says, “Is it because you came all the way up to Vancouver Island, showed up at my house wearing only a trench coat in the middle of July, and I banged you hoarse?” The smirk in his voice tells me he thinks I couldn’t possibly be pissed about that.
He’d be right.
I pause, looking up to study him for a beat. “You mean the day you couldn’t even be bothered to put on some clothes to take me to the airport?”
He blinks, his head jerking back slightly. “I skipped an entire shift when you showed up. I never do that. I left for work about a minute after the cab showed.”
This . . . is new information. I shift on my feet, unable to maintain eye contact anymore, instead looking past him to the busy street in the distance. “You didn’t tell me you had to work.”
I feel my jaw tighten with irritation when I blink back up to his face. “Did not.”
He sighs, pulling his cap off, scratching his crazy bed-head and then putting it back on. “All right, Harlow.”
“What are you doing here, anyway?” I ask him.
And then it clicks into place: Ansel is in town visiting Mia, and we’re all headed to the grand opening of Oliver’s comic book store, Downtown Graffick, tomorrow. Canadian Finn, Parisian Ansel, and the dry-witted Aussie Oliver: the bridegrooms of Vegas. Although four of us got quick annulments after our wedding shenanigans, Mia and Ansel decided to make a real go at this marriage thing. Lola and Oliver have become friends, bonding over their shared comic and graphic novel love. So, whether we like it or not, Finn and I are expected to be a part of this band of misfit buddies. We have to learn to be civil, with our clothes on.
“Right,” I mumble. “The opening is this weekend. You’re here for that.”
“I know they won’t be stocking Seventeen and Cosmo, but you should come by and check it out, anyway,” he says. “The store looks good.”
I lift the coffee cup to my nose and sniff. Black, unadulterated coffee. Perfect. “Of course I’ll be there. I like Oliver and Ansel.”
He swipes a palm over his mouth, smiling a little. “So. You’re pissed about the cab.”
“I’m not pissed. This isn’t a lovers’ spat, and we aren’t having a quarrel. I’m just having a bad morning.”
Narrowing his eyes, he looks me over, from head to toe. He’s so damn observant it makes me blush, and I know as soon as his smile reappears that he’s deduced I didn’t come from home. “Your hair is all crazy, but what’s interesting is you look a little hard up. Like maybe you didn’t quite get what you needed somewhere.”
Finn steps closer, head tilted slightly to the side with that infuriating half smile. “Say please, and I will.”
With a laugh, I push him away with my palm flat to his very nice, very hard chest. “Go away.”
“Because now you want it?”
“Because you need a shower.”
“Listen,” he says, laughing. “I won’t chase you down again if you go running away, but we’re going to see each other from time to time. Let’s try to be grown-ups.”
He turns without waiting for my reply and I hear his truck alarm chirp as he unlocks the door. I make a bratty little fuck-you face and display my middle finger to his retreating form. But then I pause, my heart tripping over itself with an abrupt rush of adrenaline.