All I need is a single guy chivalrous enough to play the part of my boyfriend for five minutes…
Half of Chicago calls Belfast their favorite bar, and there’s already a good crowd. But two-thirds of the way through the main room and I don’t know a soul. How is that possible?
I jump from face to face, searching as my stomach turns.
Recognition in the form of: Oh no. No. Not him. Anyone but him.
But it’s definitely him.
I recognize the blade-straight nose, the chiseled cheekbones over a square-cut jaw. And that mouth. Soft and full, it shouldn’t fit with a face as masculine as his, but those lips have been distracting my girlfriends and making my classmates swoony since the seventh grade.
There’s a leanness to the strong angles of his face that wasn’t there in high school, and as much as I hate to admit it, it looks good.
Jack Hastings. Bane of my existence. It would have to be him. And, of course, he’s single.
Steely-gray eyes clash with mine, and the air leaks from my lungs on an F-bomb my parents would call classless.
The guy hates me. It’s there in his eyes, just the way it’s been since we were six years old. But I know for a fact he can hide it so well that there was a time when, briefly, even I didn’t know better.
I start across the bar, my smile straining at maniacal proportions.
“Hi, guys,” I sing out, giving everyone a cursory wave as I close in on Jack, whose obvious confusion would be spectacular if the whole point of this charade wasn’t to sell my coworker on a relationship that doesn’t exist.
Reaching his side, I press in close, then closer still, so my arm is looped around his broad shoulders. “Jack, sweetie, didn’t see you at first.” Shooting him a pleading look, I motion behind me. “Remember me telling you about Clarence from work?”
Jack’s one of the smartest guys I know. But the blank look I’m getting back from him makes me want to whack the side of his head to shake something loose. Instead I give him a pointed look, praying he’ll throw me a bone. “He was starting to think I’d made you up!”
The lights turn on in his eyes, and the hard line of his mouth falls into a slant that probably ought to concern me. So far as I know, Jack has never passed up on an opportunity to make me squirm. Not that I have either. But he’s a good friend to my brother. So I hold my breath, waiting to see what he’ll do next.
I don’t have to wait long.
“Babe, why didn’t you tell me I was finally gonna meet him?” Jack offers his hand and waits for Clarence to drag his attention from Julia, who happens to be one of the hottest sports reporters in the country right now. She’s also engaged to Greg, star center for the Slayers, Chicago’s newest hockey team. And Hank, heck, the guy makes Elon Musk look like a member of the Geek Squad.
I’m giving it another thirty seconds before Clarence asks everyone to sign his shirt. And after that, he’ll step back to give us our space. He’ll be out of my hair. I’ll apologize to my old classmates and put some much-needed distance between my hip and Jack’s thigh. As hard as it’s going to be, I’ll say something nice to him, and—
“Clarence, man, pull up a chair.” Jack’s arm turns to steel around my waist as I stiffen. Because what… the… hell?
Jack flashes me a wink. “Join us.”
Oh, I’m going to kill him.