“So Evan and Kyle are taking virgins and can pull off an upset?”
“Yep. This is gonna go down to the last night of the damn contest.”
“What’s the winner get?” I’m thinking a long term game like this has gotta have big stakes.
Evan smiles. “A dollar.”
“A dollar? Are you f**king kidding me?”
“We’re in it for the game bro, not the cash.”
“Whatever you say man, but both would be nicer in my book.” The bell rings and we all stand. I find Liv and watch as she walks out the door before I even attempt to move in her direction. “Who’s your prom date, Evan?”
I’ve taken the book in and out of my bag at least ten times by the time the buzzer rings right at seven. It’s currently hidden in the bottom of my bag, but if he takes more than thirty seconds to get up to my floor, I’m pretty sure it won’t be in there by the time he knocks.
I hear Ally open the door, but I stay in my room a few more minutes to compose myself. Eventually, I hold my breath and force myself out of hiding and make my way into the living room.
Ally is standing in the kitchen pouring a glass of wine while Vinny sits on a stool at the breakfast nook. He turns and stands as I walk into the room, leaving Ally talking to the back of his head.
“Hey.” He stands and watches me walk toward him, a slight smirk on his handsome face. I stop in front of him, suddenly feeling awkward about how I should greet him, but the feeling doesn’t last for long. Vinny hooks his hand around my neck and leans down to kiss me gently on the lips.
Looking up, I find a smile on Ally’s face and her eyebrows arched in question at the greeting I’ve just received. Her glass of wine in hand, halfway up to her mouth, she looks at my face and changes her mind, extending her hand with the glass out to me.
Desperate to calm my nerves, I take the glass and silently thank my best friend with a smile.
“You want a glass of wine, Vince?” Ally reaches into the cabinet where we keep the glasses.
“No, thanks. But don’t let it stop the two of you.” His words and smile said in jest, as I’m already gulping from my glass and Ally is busy pouring another for herself.
Ally and Vinny catch up, lots of talk about his upcoming fight. Most of what he shares, I already knew from interviewing him for my article. I’m surprised when he extends an invite to Ally. “You should come with Liv. I’ll give her a few extra tickets.”
I wonder if Vinny’s aware he just bought my best friend’s unwavering support of my new found relationship with him. She’s a die-hard sports fan, not to mention that she would never turn down an opportunity to ogle men with eight packs wearing only boxers, surrounded by a few thousand manly men hyped up on extra testosterone in anticipation of watching said men beat the crap out of each other.
I finish my glass of wine in record time and interrupt the little love fest the two seem to be sharing. “Who said I was going to your fight?” Arching one eyebrow in question, I turn to address Vinny.
“You don’t want to come?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“So what’s the problem then?”
“You seem to be making a lot of decisions for me without consulting me first,” I fold my hands over my chest as I respond.
“And you don’t like the decisions?”
“I didn’t say that…but...”
“But what, Liv?” Vinny shrugs his shoulders. Clearly he’s clueless as to the point I am trying to make here.
“You’re supposed to ask people what they want before you decide things for them.”
Vinny folds his arms over his chest, mimicking my stance. “Seems like a waste of time when you already know what the other person wants.”
My mouth actually drops open. The arrogance of the man is just so unbelievable. “And what if you’re wrong as to what the other person wants?”
Vinny shakes his head and closes the distance between us, wrapping both his arms around my waist. “I have no doubt you’ll let me know if I’m wrong.” The cocky smile on his face disappears only for a second while he plants a chaste kiss on my lips.
I’ve never been to the restaurant Vinny takes me to. It’s small and intimate and would normally be something I’d appreciate, but the staff all seems to know him and I find myself annoyed that it’s clearly a place he frequents with his conquests. I don’t know why it bothers me, it just does. We’re both adults, even I’ve had my fair share of dates and overnight partners. Yet something deep inside me is bothered by knowing he’s been here and done this before…with someone else.
The waitress comes to greet us, and I feel my pulse accelerate when she also greets Vinny, no Vince, by name. She’s cute, although too thin. So much so that I find myself wondering if she has an eating disorder, or perhaps a drug problem, while her and Vinny take a minute to catch up. Careful inspection finds dark circles under her eyes, even though a thick layer of makeup attempts to conceal it.
“So, what can I get you tonight? Beer for you and...” The waif like waitress smiles at me and waits for my response.
“I’ll take a Merlot. Thank you.” I bury my nose in the menu, unable to conceal that I’m bothered by his familiarity with the restaurant, the waitress…the entire dating scene. What girl wants it smacking her in the face as she goes out to dinner with a man she is trying to learn to trust?
“Do you like tilapia?”
“Yes.” I answer, but don’t look up from the menu.
“I’ll order for us then.” Vinny folds his menu and tosses it on the table, as if the discussion we just began already ended.
“I can order for myself.” I’m not successful at hiding that I’m annoyed, even though I really do try.
“I didn’t say you couldn’t. I just figured since I’ve tried most of the things on the menu—”
“Looks like a few that aren’t on it too.” The words come out under my breath, dripping with so much bitterness that even I find the statement catty.
Vinny doesn’t respond immediately. Curious as to his response to my immature statement, I lift my head and find him glaring at me. Neither of us says anything for a minute as we stare into each other’s eyes, playing visual chicken, both too stubborn to look away.
“I come here with Elle and Nico all the time. I know Lily from outpatient rehab, never touched the woman. I’ve never taken a date here.”
I can see in his face he’s telling the truth. Heat seeps up to my face, I’m embarrassed for jumping to conclusions, but even more embarrassed at how I reacted to the conclusion I drew. Like a jealous girlfriend, unsure of herself.
“Don’t be.” There’s a slight uptick in the corner of his mouth. “I’m glad you’re territorial, because I feel the same way.”
Vinny interrupts me before I could deny what he’s accused me of. “You are.”
Exasperated, I let out a sigh and wave my hand. “Whatever.” It earns me a full-fledged, panty dropping, dimple bearing smile.
The tension from earlier in the evening long forgotten, we spend hours catching up.
“So you were valedictorian?”
Surprised he knew I’d received any accolades, I correct him. “Salutatorian. You kept tabs on me?”
“Isn’t that like, number two? And yes.” He arches his eyebrow. Clearly he remembers how competitive I could be.
“Scott Julian beat me by .002.” It’s been years, but the agony of defeat still grates on my nerves. “I got a B+ in gym.” Rolling my eyes at my own admission.
My response earns a chuckle. “You lost number one because of gym.”
“Yep.” I lift my wine to my mouth and drain the glass. It pisses me off, but I can find the humor in it too. Finally. Well, maybe a little anyway.
“That was the only class I ever got an A in.”
“What about English? You did well when I tutored you.”
“Got a B.” He finishes his beer. “Tutor was hot.” He shrugs, a grin on his face. “Distracted me.”
“So it’s my fault you didn’t get an A in a real subject?”
His brows narrow. “Gym is a real subject.”
“Pfsst.” I pooh-pooh his answer. “Gym is not a real subject.”
Eyebrows popping, he finds amusement in my answer. “Bet you Scott Julian agrees with me.”
“Whatever.” I squint, my hand waving away our argument as no big deal, even though it’s one I could clearly argue for hours. One that still sits uneasily with me. “You just like to get a rise out of me,” I accuse.
One lip turned devilishly upward, an eyebrow arched suggestively, he doesn’t even need to speak his retort. We both know what it would be.
Through dessert, I tell him stories about Ally and I going away to college together, bringing him up to date on her four changes in career choices since we graduated high school. He tells me stories about Elle and Nico. There’s a lot of history there. They seem to have become his family. I notice he doesn’t often mention his mother.
After he pays the check, Vinny stands and offers me his hand to help me up. Though he doesn’t release it when I’m fully upright. Instead, he gathers me close and lowers his mouth to mine. I feel the heat of his breath and a brush so soft on my lips, I can’t even be sure if we’ve touched. “Did you bring your book?” he says softly, but with a huskiness to his voice that warms my body all over.
“Yes.” My breaths coming quicker and shallower from the close proximity, the word drops from my lips in almost a pant. This man can take me from zero to sixty in only a few seconds.
“Good girl.” He slightly pulls his head back to take in my face. The mischief I find makes my heart skip a beat. “You know I always loved it when you read to me. I had to sit on my hands to stop them from finding their way up that little black skirt you used to wear. I’m guessing this book is gonna be a lot more fun than the stuff we read in high school. And I’m definitely not sitting on my hands.” A damn sexy grin mixed with his deep raspy voice melts any conviction I’d had left. “Let’s get out of here.”
He doesn’t tell me where we’re going, and I don’t ask either. We’re both quiet as he zips his truck through the downtown streets, his attention clearly focused on getting to our next destination. My mind races and I struggle to separate it from my body that seems to have ideas of its own. At this point Vinny could probably tell me that he’s a serial killer, but if his hard, warm body is pushed up against me, I know my brain would lose the battle to the relentless pursuit of my body to fill its own needs.
He leads me into his apartment, both of us still quiet. I’m nervous and anxious and he senses it. Knows I’m teetering on the verge of changing my mind…not that I‘ve been given an opportunity to make up my mind anyway. One large arm wraps around my waist pulling me close to him. I lean my head into his chest, still feeling conflicted, although the close proximity tips the scale slightly on the side of seeing this beautiful man naked.
After a minute, Vinny runs a hand slowly down my cheek, stopping at my chin, using his finger to gently lift my head so my eyes meet his gaze. “I want you, Liv. I wanted you seven years ago. Want you even more now. So much that I can’t think about anything else. Need you.” He exhales deeply and leans his forehead into mine, composing himself before he continues. “All you gotta do is say no, Liv. But, I’m giving you fair warning…if you don’t tell me no, I’m going to take you.” His serious face changes and I watch as his pupil’s dilate, heat pouring from his body as he continues, his grip on the back of my neck tightening. “And then you’re mine to do with as I please.”