Chapter One – DIRTY ROWDY THING

YOU GUYS ARE THE BEST!! Barely a week after we started our DIRTY ROWDY THING preorder campaign in earnest, we hit Milestone 1! We can’t thank you enough!! But we’d like to at least try: we are sharing Chapter 1 today and Chapter 2 is now live here! Help us push preorders, because the higher we go, the more chapters Gallery will let us put up on our site! Seriously, we appreciate you all so much and just adore you for joining us on this adventure leading up to the release of the book on November 4th. And now, ::drumroll:: . . .

DIRTY ROWDY THING
Chapter ONE

 

Harlow

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 Rob- erts 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 did.”

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 bride- grooms 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.”

“Bite me.”

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.

Finn is climbing in the same cherry-red truck that was parked at the curb in front of his house. Only now it’s covered in the dust and grime accumulated from miles and miles of driving.

Which begs the question, if he’s only visiting for the weekend, then why did he bring his truck all the way here from Vancouver Island?

I don’t have much time to ponder this because my phone buzzes in my pocket from my mom’s text and I pull it out only to see the words, Will you come to the house right away please, written across my screen.

~~

I AM A fixer.

When I was four and broke my mother’s favorite necklace while trying it on, I spent three hours in my tree house trying to glue it back together. I succeeded only in gluing several fingers together. Senior year when Mia was hit by the truck and nearly paralyzed, I sat by her side every day for the entire summer she spent in a toe-to-waist cast. I knew that if I sat there long enough she would need something and I would be there, ready. I brought her DVDs and ridiculous teen magazines. I painted her nails and went so far as to smuggle the oddest things into her room—wine coolers; her boyfriend, Luke; her cat—just to see her smile. When Lola’s father was sent to Afghanistan—and then when he returned, shaken and different, and Lola’s mom abandoned them both for good—I brought groceries and dinners, anything that would take the tiniest burden off them. And when Ansel was too man- brained to fix things with Mia, I forced my way in there, too.

When my friends need something, I do it. When some- one I love can’t solve a problem, I find a way. For better or worse, it’s what I do.

So when I pull into the drive and sit down beside my little sister and across from our parents in our light, airy, happy family room—a room that, right now, feels like a tomb—I’m immediately on high alert. On an average day, our family is boisterous. Right now, we are silent. I feel like I should whisper my hellos. The curtains are open, but the thick fog of the marine layer outside makes the room feel gloomy and dark.

My family is—and has always been—the center of my world. My mom was an actress when my parents got married, and Dad’s career didn’t take off until I hit high school. So when I was little, Dad and I would travel with Mom from one set to the next. Until my sister Bellamy was born when I was six, it was just the three of us most of the time.

Dad is the emotionally intuitive, nurturing one, all creative energy and passion. Mom is the beautiful, calm centering force in our family, leading the house with a wink behind my father’s broad shoulders. But right now she sits next to him, gripping his hand in both of hers, and I can see from across the low coffee table that she’s sweating.

I have it in my head that they’re going to tell us they’re selling the house. (I would picket in the driveway until they backed down.) That they’re moving to Los Angeles. (I will lose my shit.) That they’re having some trouble and are going to spend some time apart. (This I can’t even fathom.)

“What’s going on?” I ask slowly.

Mom closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and then looks right at us, saying, “I have breast cancer.”

After these four words, the hundreds that follow sound fuzzy and shapeless. But I understand enough to know that Mom has a tumor that is roughly three centimeters in her breast, and that cancerous cells were found in several lymph nodes. Dad found the mass while they were in the shower one morning—I’m too relieved he found it to be weirded out by this information—and she didn’t want to tell us anything until she knew more. She’s opted for a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy, and they’ve scheduled surgery for Monday . . . three days from now.

It’s all somehow moving too fast, and, for a fixer like me, not fast enough. I can rattle off questions as if I’m reading from a book: Have you gotten a second opinion on the pathology? What is the recovery time for the surgery? How soon after can you start chemo? What medications will they give you? But I’m too stunned to know if my rapid-fire questions are an appropriate reaction at all.

When Dad mentioned he found the lump, Bellamy burst out laughing and then immediately broke down into hysterical sobs. Mom sounded like an automaton for the first time in her entire life as she detailed what the doctor had told her. Dad remained uncharacteristically mute.

So this is what I’m saying: What is an appropriate reaction when the center of your world finds out she’s mortal?

Once she’s finished telling us everything she knows—and once she’s promised us that she feels strong, and fine just fine—she tells us she wants to go lie down and be alone for a little while. But I can hardly breathe, and from the look on my father’s face, he’s faring much, much worse.

Bellamy and I sit and watch Clue with the volume practically on mute. She’s curled in my lap, and Dad has disappeared down the hall to their bedroom. On my phone’s browser, I read every website I can find on stage-three breast cancer, and with every new piece of information I mentally update the odds of my mother’s survival. The credits are rolling and then the screen goes blank before I realize the movie is over.

~~

BUT THERE’S NOTHING I can do now. Mom doesn’t want us to do anything; she doesn’t want me taking care of her. She wants us to “live our lives” and “not let this monopolize our thoughts.”

Does she not know Dad and me at all?

Only a few hours after she tells us, this cancer has become a thing, a living, breathing entity that takes up just as much space in our house as any of us do. It’s all I can think about, all I see when I look at her. And so I have no idea what to do with myself.

“I thought there was a party at Lola’s new place tonight,” Mom says, and I snap back to the conversation. She looks perfectly normal, if not a little tired, flipping a grilled cheese and glancing at me over her shoulder. You know, making us dinner as if it’s a normal Friday night, nothing different. I can tell all three of us are watching her cook and suppressing our need to suggest she go sit down, relax, let us bring her something to eat.

She would kill us.

“There is . . .” I hedge and steal a few shreds of cheese from her bowl. “But I’m staying here.”

“No, you’re not.” Mom turns and gives me her best don’t-argue-with-me face. “Oliver’s store opens tomorrow.”

“I know.”

“You’re going out, and you’re staying at your place tonight,” Dad insists. “I’m taking Mom to a movie and then I’m bringing her home and”—he does a slick little dance move behind her—“you won’t want to be home for what comes next.”

Oh God. I press my hands over my ears as Bellamy ducks and pretends to hide under the breakfast bar.

“You win,” I tell him, trying to keep my tone light and shove down the panic I feel welling up inside of me. I don’t want to be away from my mom. “But tomorrow we’re doing something with all four of us.”

Dad nods and smiles bravely at me. I’ve never seen him look so shaken.

~~

IT’S ACTUALLY GOOD to get out, if I’m being honest. The worst thing we could do for Mom is sit around and watch every move she makes with our worried, woeful expressions. Dad assured me my role will come in the next few weeks and months. I can work with that. Bellamy is sweet, but she’s only eighteen and also oddly incapable. Every small errand stresses her out. It makes her good for the role of Stay Positive! I’m the daughter who gets shit done. I’ll be the daughter who drives Mom to appointments, asks too many questions, takes care of her when Dad needs to work, and will probably drive her crazy.

But right now, I feel awful.

And if there is anyone I want to see other than my family tonight, it’s my girls.

Lola’s new apartment is a huge step up from the dorms. I expected her to move in with me when we graduated, but she wanted to be downtown, and every time I visit I can’t really blame her. It’s situated just north of the Gaslamp Quarter in a new, giant-windowed high-rise with wide-open rooms, a view of the harbor, and a location only blocks away from the Donut Bar. Lucky woman.

“Harlowwwww!” My name is shouted across the large living room and quickly I’m surrounded by four arms. Two are Lola’s, and two belong to London, Lola’s new roommate and the most adorable all-American girl you can imagine: sandy blond hair, freckles, dimples and a constant smile. She cools it down perfectly with her hot nerd girl glasses and wild clothes. Tonight, for example, I see she’s wearing a blue Tardis T-shirt, a polka-dot green and yellow skirt, and black- and-white–striped kneesocks. With Lola’s retro black dress and sleek Bettie Page thing going on, they make the rest of us look tragically unhip.

“Hi Lola-London,” I say, pressing my face into Lola’s neck. I needed this.

Lola’s voice is muffled against my hair. “That sounds like a stripper name.”

London laughs, extracting herself from the tangle. “Or the name of a drink?”

“One Lola-London on the rocks,” I say.

“Well,” London says, pointing to the cooler on the kitchen floor. “We can try inventing it tonight. I swear I bought everything. Mixers and booze and beer and nuts and—” She closes her eyes, raises her right hand in a rocker salute, and belts out, “Fritos!”

She turns running off to answer the door and I give Lola my nod of approval. “I like that girl.”

“Someone told me there is a fiesta in this casa!”

I turn to the sound of Ansel’s deep, accented voice, and every sound in the apartment dips for a beat before applause and laughter break out. He’s wearing a sombrero filled with tortilla chips. Because he’s an adorable idiot.

Mia breaks away from him, making a beeline to me, and wraps her arms around my shoulders. “You okay?”

I called Lola and Mia earlier, gave them both the truncated update, and they know me well enough to anticipate the magnitude of my panic.

I blink away from the delightful spectacle of Ansel doing some weird little bullfighter dance. “Eh. You know.”

She pulls back and studies my face before deciding, accurately, that I’m here for distraction and not to discuss my mom. We all turn to watch Ansel as he offers sombrero chips to someone. Seriously, his inner child is definitely alive and kicking.

I draw a circle in the air around my head. “What is with the—”

“No idea.” Mia cuts me off. “He and Finn went out for beers earlier and back he comes with it. He hasn’t taken it off in hours, but has refilled it three times. Stand back ladies”—she bends, digging a beer out of the cooler—“he’s all mine.”

And at the mention of his name, I catch sight of Finn across the room. He must have come in with them. My stomach does an annoying clench-warm-flip move when he laughs over something Ansel says and lifts his arm to adjust his baseball hat. His bicep flexes and my stomach ignites. I chug half my beer to make the feeling go away, imagining the hiss and steam as the metaphorical flames are put out.

“I didn’t know Finn was coming tonight.” But what was I thinking? That they would leave him at home alone? Finn is just one more complication my already frazzled brain can’t quite handle right now.

Mia twists the cap off her beer and watches me, a little smile in her eyes. “Is that okay?”

Civil. Band of misfit buddies, I remind myself. “You know it’s fine.”

“As long as it doesn’t try to speak, right?”

Laughing, I nod. “Right.”

Lola rubs my back and then tilts her head, indicating she’s going to join the people gathering to play cards. “You good here?”

“Yeah,” I tell her. “I’ll probably just hang back and watch you guys be awesome.”

After making sure I don’t need company, Mia follows her, and I’m left alone in the brightly lit kitchen, watching the small group around the dining table. Ansel licks his thumb and then begins dealing cards, tossing them expertly across the table to each player. I feel a little lost, like I shouldn’t be here but unable to go home, either. I’m too tight in my skin, too warm in this apartment.

A shadow dips past me and when I turn, I find a bleached-blond mohawked guy bending to pull a wine cooler out of the fridge.

“Interesting beverage choice,” I say.

“Passion punch!” He turns and laughs, nodding in total agreement. He’s gorgeous, if not a little dirty, but his smile showcases a mouthful of perfect, white teeth—a La Jolla hippie boy. Of course. “Have you ever had these? They taste like juice!”

The cheap wine cooler is a newfound, amusing novelty? Definitely a La Jolla hippie boy.

“I’m Harlow,” I say, extending my hand. “And if you want juice, why don’t you just drink juice?”

He shakes it. “There is very little trouble to be had in juice,” he says, before pointing the bottle at his chest and adding, “Not-Joe.”

“‘Nacho’?”

“No. Not. Joe. Oliver, my new boss? Calls me Joey. I think he’s fucking with me, like a kangaroo thing because he’s Australian? But it isn’t my name.”

I wait for him to give me his real name—obviously he can’t have known Oliver long enough for him to be called Not-Joe more than a few months—but he doesn’t. “So you go by Not-Joe?”

“Yeah!”

“All the time?”

“Yep.”

“Well, okay then, it’s nice to meet you.” Despite the fact that I fear Not-Joe is a few synapses short of an invertebrate, I look him over and instantly like him, anyway. He’s wearing board shorts and a T-shirt and clearly has absolutely nothing but earnest giddiness to be right here, doing exactly this. “So you’re going to work at the store?”

When he nods, gulping down half his wine cooler in a single swallow, I add, “Tomorrow should be pretty exciting for you guys.”

“It’s gonna be good. Oliver is the best boss. Or, I can tell he’s going to be. He’s just so laid-back.”

I look across the room at where Oliver is concentrating so hard on the cards in his hand I fear they might incinerate. Unlike Finn, who doesn’t seem to worry much about his appearance, but tilts the odds in his favor by keeping his hair cut short, his face usually clean-shaven, Oliver is hot in an accidental sort of way. I haven’t really decided if he’s as oblivious about it as he seems, but I do know he’s a pretty intense guy, and given that he’s only thirty and opening a high-profile comic store in the hippest area of San Diego, I don’t think he’s quite as laid-back as Not-Joe is hoping.

I look back to the hippie boy. “What are you going to be doing there?”

“Selling comics and stuff.”

I laugh. This guy unsupervised must be a sight to behold. “Oh, you mean working the front?”

“Yep. Working the front. And sometimes the back.” He laughs to himself. “The re-gis-ter,” he sings.

“Exactly how high are you, Not-Joe?”

He stops moving and seems to do a lengthy mental inspection. “Pretty high.”

“Want to do some shots?”

Because really, there’s no way I’m ever having sex with Not-Joe, but my second favorite thing to do with guys is watch them get drunk.

We line up a couple and toss them back, just as I see Finn stand from the table. He tosses down his cards, clearly folding as he pulls off his cap, scratches his head with the same hand, and then slips it back on again. I hate that I find the maneuver so completely sexy. When he looks up and sees me in the kitchen with Not-Joe, he narrows his eyes for a beat and then starts to walk toward us.

“Oh, shit,” I mumble under my breath.

“Does the Hulk belong to you?” Not-Joe asks, tilting his head.

“Not even a little.”

“Still. Look at the intensity in his eyes,” he whispers drunkenly. “The lion prowls.” With a little shiver, he seems to clear his trance and chirps, “I’m headed to the little boys’ room.”

“Thanks,” I grumble to his retreating back, as Finn slides between me and the counter, leaning a hip against it.

Tonight I’m missing my usual armor—my social enthusiasm, my confidence, and the ease that comes with knowing life is okay for everyone I love. A tiny alarm in my brain signals that talking to Finn right now might be a terrible idea. We will either end up fighting or fucking, and Finn does neither with any sort of tenderness. But I refuse to step back and can feel the heat coming off his chest. His hat is pulled low over his eyes, so I have to rely on the curve of his mouth to interpret his mood. So far, he seems . . . bored, angry, pensive, or asleep.

“Fancy meeting you here.”

“Finn.” I acknowledge him with a little nod.

His smile starts at one corner and twists across his lips. Damn him and his amazingly flirty mouth. “Harlow.”

I saw my teeth over my bottom lip as I consider him. Mindless chatter won’t work here, but I’m not entirely sure I can handle his rough edges tonight when I’m feeling so threadbare myself. Finn doesn’t fit into any of my easily pre- determined boy-categories, and maybe there’s a challenge in that.

He is hard to read, easy to look at, and no matter how bad an idea it may be, it’s nearly impossible to resist pulling him closer.

Fighting or fucking.

Both of those options are starting to sound pretty good.

~~

YAY for Chapter One!! Want more? Help us push the preorder campaign! CHAPTER TWO IS NOW LIVE, and when we hit Gallery’s sales milestones we can share even more chapters! Trust us, Chapter Three is VERY SPICY INDEED.

Target

Barnes and Noble

Amazon

Chapters Indigo

Books-a-Million

Indiebound

Audible

xoxoxo!

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